What if?

By Michele Herenstein

This is the age-old question. What if we had made different choices years ago, if we had taken a different direction? Would we be happier now? More fulfilled? Or no different at all?

I’ve pondered this over the years. Would things be different . . .

. . . if I had a sister to confide in while growing up?

. . . if I had married my (ex) fiancé at the age of 22?

. . . if my Aunt Roz hadn’t died young?

There are so many what-ifs. I wonder sometimes what our lives would be like if we had made different decisions, had taken a different path. And is it ever too late to make new choices, new resolutions?

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Scientists test for most everything today. They keep coming up with new findings and cures and treatments. But this question is beyond the scope of science. One can’t accurately assess the effect a person’s choices have had on life, as compared to another direction that would have led to an entirely different life. Even comparing the lives of twins does not shed light on this, as their minds are not identical. It’s impossible to test.

If I had learned in Israel for a year after high school, would I be different religiously? Socially? Academically?

If I had children, would I be more empathetic, caring, motherly?

Divorce is rampant, even in Jewish society. If divorcing couples realized that maybe they made the right choice at the time they got married, it might make things easier to bear even if things went wrong in the end.

Hashem has given us free thought, the ability to make decisions. We also have the ability to make new decisions or change our minds. This is something not to be taken lightly.

As Jews, we do believe that everything happens for a reason, and if something goes wrong in our lives, it might help knowing that Hashem only has our best interests at heart, and we can choose to make new and better decisions. He gave us this gift, the freedom of choice. This is a hard concept to fully understand, but I believe it’s important to accept it and know that it’s true–even without fully comprehending the concept.

If a couple is divorced with children, I would bet they feel blessed with their kids. So the marriage couldn’t have been all bad, because it brought Talia or Yosef or Emily into this world.

I often feel like I’ve made many mistakes along the way. But another Jewish concept, which is also a helpful outlook, is to accept that we make mistakes, and that we’re never too old to try again, start fresh, forgive ourselves and others.

I recently celebrated my birthday, and although as I get older I’m less a fan of birthdays than ever before, if I look at it in the right light, my birthday is a blessing. It means that Hashem chose to let me live another year, to give me more time . . . time to change attitudes, jobs, relationships; to be a better person, learn more, treat people with the absolute goodness they deserve–the list goes on and on.

So can I truly hate my birthday? If I realize that it isn’t about age, but about redefining my priorities, making new decisions and changes, deciding to do more good, then how can a birthday be a bad thing? It’s an opportunity like no other. It’s a fresh start. It is like Rosh Hashanah, when you see you have been given another year of life and are praying and pleading for even another one.

There are no promises that the coming year will be better, but at least being alive allows us choices. If we want to make our year the best we can, we hopefully have the koach (strength) to try and do just that.

So, a divorced couple–did they make a monumental mistake by marrying? Maybe. But perhaps they also learned much about themselves, things they never would have learned without being married. And their children! Most divorced people I speak to who have children say their children are such a blessing; how could they call their marriage a mistake?

The gist of it is that we don’t know why things happen. We don’t know what our choices will lead to.

Will it make me happier to look back on my life in my twenties and think, “I’d have been so happy if I had just married X”? If I had gone to a different college. If I had chosen a different career path. No, of course not. Quite the opposite. What is the point of wondering about all the things that could have been but weren’t?

The real question is, what is the truth and reality of our lives now, and what are we going to do about it? Feel regret and be bitter that things should have turned out differently? Or realize that instead of “What if?” we should think “What now?”

We have many choices ahead of us, and hopefully we don’t begin to doubt ourselves because of past mistakes. Just because you made choices in the past and things didn’t seem to turn out very well, that doesn’t mean you should start second-guessing yourself.

Look towards a brighter future full of smart choices to be made. And throw the what-ifs in the garbage. They don’t matter and we’ll never know the answers anyway. Take out a notebook and write “WHAT NOW?” on every page. Then go ahead and fill in those sheets. Every day of your life, you have a chance to start new; don’t throw these chances away. Use them. Be brave. Be the person you want to be and know you can be.

Stop looking over your shoulder, thinking “What if?” Instead, look to the future. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. And it’s going to be awesome! v

Note: I’m writing these articles because I hope my story will provide encouragement, hope, and information that will be helpful to others. Please understand, however, that I cannot offer medical advice or referrals to treatment.

Michele Herenstein is a freelance journalist and can be reached at michelesherenstein@hotmail.com.

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