I found myself perusing through some old journal entries the other day at the coffee shop that sparked good and challenging memories. There were the two pages I wrote the day after my daughter’s 12th birthday - words filled with pride and emotion. There was a strange entry I had made late one night after watching a rerun of “Gilligan’s Island” containing among other observations, the assertion that the Professor was not only responsible for their situation of becoming shipwrecked, but actually sabotaging their rescue. As odd as that entry was, another one seemed to stop me in my tracks. It appeared at first to be a blank page, a page that I had neglected to write on - maybe it got stuck to another page, maybe in my haste to write something down I just missed it. But, that wasn’t the case, upon further inspection I found that it actually contained three words written in block letters in the bottom right hand corner. Funny thing is, as hard as I try, I have no recollection of writing them. Yet, there they are clear as day written in my own blocky handwriting. I sat there transfixed staring at words that made little-to-no sense, yet somehow I understood them completely.
When and if.
It was like one of those science fiction movies where the future me comes back through time with a message to warn me of an impending doom, only I could see no foreboding in the words.
When and if.
When, when what?
When I’m older?
When I’m richer?
When I’m satisfied?
When I’ve completed all those things on my “to do” list?
When I’ve figured it all out: life, faith, fatherhood, the ending of LOST?
What did ‘When’ mean?
If I don’t screw up?
If I follow my dreams?
If I say no to doubt and fear?
The possibilities seemed endless. Sitting there with my coffee slowly getting colder, I narrowly focused on decoding my own thoughts and it occurred to me that I must have put these words together for a reason. It wasn’t… when OR if, but:
When AND If.
That seemed to make more sense. It was the “and” that was the most important part of this message, it’s the “and” that joins the responsibility of When with the hope of If.
As I get older, leaving the naivety of youth well in the distance and setting up camp deep in the territories of actual adulthood, I’ve begun to realize that the tomorrow I had looked towards and planned for has not only come to pass but flown right by me and become yesterday. This isn’t a bad thing, please don’t get me wrong, this is far from being a lament for my lost youth. In fact, these words have helped me to gain a sure foothold on the years to come.
When (responsibility) AND if (hope).
A wise person once told me:
“You can’t look back and walk forward at the same time, if you do you’ll trip and you run the risk of getting hurt. So, you can choose to stand still looking back pining for what was, or you can turn your head, face front and walk forward.”
When (the responsibility to move forward) AND if (the hope of what is yet to come).
I think it’s about being in the mindset of continual growth, moving forward - about dreaming big while enjoying what is. I’m not sure what frame of mind I was in when I wrote those words on a lonely piece of paper in the middle of my journal. It’s, strange because I usually have a great memory just ask…what’s her name…my wife. Maybe it’s the getting older thing or maybe it actually was some time-traveling version of myself? But, as I sat there my coffee now a complete lost cause due to neglect, I was flooded with a sense of peace and reassurance that has changed over the past few days to become a strange internal dichotomy of restless anticipation and utter contentment. The peaks and valleys of the past have prepared and trained me for the challenges of the ‘yet to come’. And, around each and every corner I’m amazed to find beauty in a journey of possibilities, in the dramatic movement of every twist and turn, in the reassurance of hope, and in the mystery of hidden messages.
The beauty in the when and ifs.
Erik Ewing is the Program Director for The Authenticity Project; you can contact Erik at TheAuthenticityProject@gmail.com.