“What if” — I don’t think a more exciting phrase exists in the English language. It is infinite, ambiguous, ridiculously thought-provoking, and damn right beautiful. It’s the catalyst for new adventures that never promise or guarantee, but always create and question. It awakens the wide-eyed, imaginative, naive child in everyone as the word slips off their tongue, and, for a split second, anything seems possible. These two words have the power to change tomorrow, indefinitely.
But it’s also the most terrifying, paralyzing, stress-inducing phrase that keeps me up at night and stops me dead in my tracks from enjoying life as they say I should: in the moment. It haunts me. It kills my memories and poisons those yet to be made.
I find myself in a spiral of uncertainty as of late. When, by some miracle, I’ve managed to unwind myself from it, clarity hits me without warning: isn’t this what life should be like anyway? We don’t have the answers. We never have the answers. My dad, an old soul with a young heart and wisdom the likes of which I have yet to find in anyone else that I know, reminds me constantly: “Life is a journey. Just enjoy the ride”.
It’s all so obvious, isn’t it? Knowing what is going to happen (or wishing I could change what already has happened) would end the journey of life and confine me to a finite existence devoid of the magic that makes it worth living. And that magic only exists in the beauty of the unknown. My dad periodically directs me to the poem Live the Questions by Rainer Maria Rilke. “Remember the Rilke poem”, I can hear him say. I feel a profound urge to hug this poet and thank him a thousand times over for reminding me that uncertainty is, indeed, a beautiful thing. Something to embrace rather than avoid. He created seemingly the only string of words that can sedate me into a flow, a rhythm, transforming me into a smooth sailor happy to be tossed along on the bizarre wave we call life:
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
I’ve become numb to those cyclical fears and thoughts about the unknown. And yet, when I imagine my future self and the disappointment she must feel when I ruin yet another fleeting moment, I start to feel them – the anxieties, the worries – all over again. How frustrated she must get time and time again as our memory-making is eradicated by our own sabotaging, spurred on by our own debilitating fear of “what if”, and “what’s next”. I think about her whenever I find myself in that spiral. I dream about her, that future me, who regrets not having lived in the present, or wishes she had soaked everything up just a bit more to make the joy last longer. I really do think about her. All the time now, like a peripheral shadow following my every move. And I envision her riding the wave of life, enjoying the process, and not obsessing over where it ends, living for the questions and not the answers. And I hope to one day make her proud of who I’ve become: no longer asking “what if”, but instead, “what about now?”.