Monday, August 11, 2008

What If?

No one in this world had never asked the question ‘what if…?' at a certain point in his/her life. 'What if I took law instead of medicine?' 'What if I went to work in Europe instead of US?'. 'What if I pursued my career instead of giving it up for my family?’.

Sometimes, when we’re in an unsatisfying situation, we tend to think of our past and wonder how things would have turned out if we made a different decision. Perhaps our life turned out better. Perhaps we reached our destination faster. Perhaps we had been happier. We try to retrace our steps back to where we originally came from… back to that fork in the road where we had to make a decision whether to go one way or another. And then, we'd wish that we could turn back the hands of time and alter a chapter of our life story, not realizing there’s a possibility our situation could have been worse if we did.

One of my favorite movies is Gwyneth Paltrow’s Sliding Doors. I was a sophomore in college when I watched it. It started with Gwyneth being fired from her job and trying to catch a train. The film progressed and then divided into two scenarios, one of which, she caught the train and thus caught her boyfriend cheating on her. On the other, she missed it, and so remained ignorant of her boyfriend’s unfaithfulness. It showed how that one simple event started a chain reaction that altered the course of her life.

For several days after watching that film, I raked my brain for answers to those mind-boggling questions of what ifs. Simple situations like boarding a bus would send my mind into high gear wondering what would have happened if I boarded the other. Or I’d go to the library at 2 in the afternoon and think, what if I decided to go earlier? Years passed. My world became more complicated. Thinking about life-altering situations (which, this time, truly required thoroughly mulled-over decisions) prevailed over those ridiculous thoughts. Most of my decisions resulted to good things, but I sometimes still ponder questions of what ifs. What if I had decided to pursue psychology instead of chemistry? What if I had chosen to accept the patent chemist job I was offered and stayed in the Philippines instead of pursuing graduate studies here in US? What if I did what the guy I was dating before asked me to and followed him to Australia?

No one knows. Just like the saying, nothing’s permanent except change, nothing’s certain except uncertainty. Maybe I’d be a lot happier, maybe not. Or maybe…. if I did take up psychology, I’d be wondering, what if I pursued chemistry? Or if I stayed in the Philippines or went to Australia, I’d be asking, what if I went to the US?

The problem with most of us is that we never have satisfaction. We long for things we don’t have and when we finally do, we wish for more. When we’re in an unhappy situation, we wish we could turn back the hands of time and change things. We’re plagued with regrets and questions of what ifs. We fail to see that behind an extremely unsatisfying situation lies a beautiful thing just waiting to be discovered. Whether it’s a good laugh in an embarrassing incident or the blossom of love in the heart of war, we just have to see it. If we can’t, we have to search for it.

A few years ago, I experienced a slightly similar scenario as the one in the Sliding Doors movie (only it wasn’t a train and I didn‘t have to catch a boyfriend cheating on me). I missed my plane ride to Ohio after visiting my friend in Massachusetts. I had no choice but to take the grueling 15 - hour bus ride home. I was seething at first, but as the ride progressed, I began to see the good side of it…. that of seeing parts of New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, which I wouldn’t have had the chance to see if I took the plane. The trip suddenly became interesting and before I knew it, I was back in Ohio. And who knows?… there might be another good reason why I missed it, I just wasn’t aware of it.

In my melancholic mood or when I’m having a sporadic depression attack, I still ask those ‘what if?’ questions. But I try not to dwell too much. Even though I sometimes feel bored with chemistry, my heart still belongs to it. I was homesick in the beginning when I got here in US, but I feel blessed that I was able to experience all the things happening to me now. I’ve got to admit, I did make some bad decisions in the past, but I dont regret any of them. In a way, they helped me be the person that I am now. I love to think that the story of each of our lives has the same ending, even if the development has two versions. We might reach a crossroad but whether we chose to take one road over the other, our destination would remain the same. It’s just a matter of being happy and satisfied with our choices for the time being.

Nevertheless, if we’re not, there’s no use looking back at the fork and wishing we could start over again. Just keep going. The way I choose to see it, life is a journey and this journey consists of traveling through roads which continuously branches out into other roads. Somewhere along the way, the one we were supposed to take and the one we have taken will intersect and merge again. In the end, there’s only one road which will take us to our final destination.