For such a tiny word, it sure packs a wallop.
Half a gazillion years ago I had a dear flute student. For her Sweet 16, her mom put together a scrapbook of sorts, full of pictures and memorabilia and letters of advice from favorite teachers. She asked me to contribute a letter, and I was honored to do so. Now, this was long before I did any writing, probably six or seven years before I fired up my blog, so I really struggled to get out what I wanted to say. What could I possibly say to a 16 year old, when I was maybe only a dozen years older? It’s not as though I had a whole lot of life experience to pass along.
I finally settled on the theme of What If. Together those are two of the most powerful powerful words in the English language. They are full of possibility and hope and adventure. Those two little words inspire, encourage, and push us to greater heights. I really wish I had kept a copy of the letter I wrote, but this was some fifteen-odd years and at least four computers ago, so it’s lost to the ages.
What If we build the schnafoodle to connect to the whoozit, program it to gafliddlyfoink, and set it to work while we’re sleeping? What If we say yes to the things we usually say no to, and vice versa? What If we provide appropriate academic interventions for gifted students, because fair is everyone getting what they need?
The yang to What If‘s yin is If Only. If Only. Is there a word pairing more frustrating than If Only? I can easily berate myself into a pulp with those two words. If Only I knew what was going on with my son I could fix it and we could all finally live in something resembling familial harmony. If Only I had another six hours in a day I could finally get everything done and relax. If Only I hadn’t given up my career, or had any kind of career now, then maybe I would worry less about the future. If Only I hadn’t made the decisions I did back in the day, maybe then things would be different (and better) now.
If Only, If Only, If Only… Dangerous words, those. They’re full of despair and frustration and anger, the very opposite of What If. And yet they’re the words that hold me hostage to myself. They grab me around the neck and squeeze, usually late at night as I’m trying to sleep. If Only is the invasive plant of the soul, choking out any hope of What If setting down roots to grow.
What If. If Only. Two two-word phrases that can lift us to great heights or drown us in our dark thoughts. Opposite sides of the coin we all carry in our mental pockets, one defined by possibility, the other by despair. What If we made the conscious decision to set the positive roots, and let the invasive If Only die off?