Playing What If…

What if that one event we thought so pivotal to our life never happened?…

After watching Shrek Forever After today, I had to wonder what my life would be like if I hadn’t taken with my husband or moved close to the city.  I would not have become an actor when I did, I would not have joined a band (certainly not), I would not have had my daughter; nor would I live in this house, care one bit about gardening and keeping up with the weeds, or what schools to go to.

Then I look at the events in my family history, each ancestor’s life merely a time-line to me.  And I wonder, what don’t I know?  Why did this person do such and such?  Why did they marry this person and not that person?  What if they hadn’t?  And here I am, in the present, a live vestige of their every decision, now making my own decisions that will affect the lives of everyone around me.  What if I weren’t here?

Everybody wonders that at some point.  But this has come alive for me in the context of sorting my family history, and my life, all at once.  In the papers of old, I have asked myself where do I fit in, do I matter in this infinite time-line of events?  What difference do I make?

Maybe I am being hard on myself.  But I didn’t punch Sir John A. MacDonald in the nose, or build a railroad (my great grand-uncle did).  I didn’t leave my native Ireland and start all over again (my forefathers did).  Or did I?  In some small way, did I not leave my own native country – my childhood, the little city I called home, my family of origin?  I left all of that behind to go to university, earn a living in the big city, incite a passion long wanted, and eventually have a family of my own.  We all make choices and take leaps in our own way.  We all have our stories.

But what if we hadn’t?  This is not a question for regret, but for appreciation.  No matter how ugly it gets, there is benefit.  There is something or someone who wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for you.  You may not know it yet, but 50 or even 100 years from now, when someone is fishing through your papers or photo album, or remembering something you had said, they will be happy you were here.  They will be grateful that you did what you did, even if it was to give them something to write about!

One more thing:  And this is sentimental.  Since doing a time-line of my family of yesteryear, I decided to do one for myself.  Looking at the events of my life, I see not much at all.  Yet knowing myself and my life as I do, and how rich it really is, I have to realize that my approach to my family’s history (and the perspective of my life) has been very, very thin.  Amidst all of those dates – births, marriages and deaths – and great escapes – was a life, many lives, intertwined.  And what were they intertwined for?  Love, hatred, war, forgiveness, personal battles, contentment, building a home, building a country, building a Life.  In between all of the things I thought were important, the signposts and milestones we may consider noteworthy, a real live person breathed.  A real live person kissed their husband for the first time.  A real live person lost their innocent child and grieved.

There is so much more to family history than names and dates.  And, so much more to my life than meeting deadlines or phantom expectations.  If only I realized now what I have already done is build an incredible life – not only noteworthy, but rich with possibility and creativity, with people I have loved and lost along the way, yet all in the very same boat with me.  And a generation to come, or two, may not know or care, but I do.  I will never know all of the people I affected along the way, or what ripples I made – all I know is, like Shrek, I am very glad it did.

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