What if . . . ?

The haunting tones of the opening credits captivated me as a fleeting reference to a big screen masterpiece with very similar themes flashed in my head. The Man in the High Castle’s producers chose to use an eerie, breathy rendition of Edelweiss to remind us, the viewers, of another story where the Third Reich lost a war. However, not so in this series. Set in 1962, The Man in the High Castle asks the question (and poses a highly credible answer to the same): What if America and its allies lost the Second World War?

Imagine a division of theHighCastle United States into west coast Japanese Pacific States and east coast Nazi-controlled Greater Third Reich. Hitler is still in command. Americans have lost most of their freedoms. The dreaded thought of another H-bomb being dropped (in addition to the war-ending wipe out of Washington D.C.) hangs over everyone’s head. What’s more is that the first adults who have known nothing but occupation are now making their way into the world.

The metaphor isn’t lost on me; many have asked the same kind of questions in recent days.

But this has always been a very present theme in almost every story, movie, play and piece of music since very early days.

What if? sparks the imagination of a young Dorothy caught in a dull black-and-white rural Kansas farm, and she wakes up in Oz.

What if? drives a chained Nelson Mandela to dream of a better South Africa.

What if? is the motivating force of every great scientist who has ever tirelessly flogged themselves to find a way, a cure, an answer or a technological revolution.

Every dream of ours is a What if? question.

Every hope for the future is a What if? question.

Every prayer we pray is a What if? question.

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More often than not, however, is the other–negative–side of the question: “What if that event hadn’t happened?” “What if I didn’t say that?” “What if I did this instead of that?”

We long for someone to invent a magical DeLorean time machine to take us back in time so we can undo our past mistakes.

There are so many self-help books on specifically this topic that they could fill up any town library. TV Shows abound. YouTube is filled with a well-rehearsed crowd of people offering their wisdom on this topic.

But whatever well-meaning help is given, the past remains untouchable. It is gone. That moment will never come again. No hi-tech time-travelling car will appear to whisk me off to where I can reset my clock or rewrite a few days of upheaval.

I find, though, in an often-used, simple toss-away line, the most helpful words I can find to get me through any past-pity-party: “When you knew better, you did better.” We all have mistakes we would rather change to moments of glory. Given the same circumstances, with the same understanding–not having the advantage of hindsight–we would most likely do the same things, given the chance.

The same holds true for those who offended us, abused us, or shamed us. While some choose willingly to continue a life of hurting others, most folks, when they come to a higher level of thinking or a greater understanding of our inter-relatedness and the forces that work within us, tend to do better than in their previous ignorant state. There are times when I too come to a higher level of thinking, when I see from a new perspective that something I had suffered at the hands of another was done to me not out of malice, but out of whatever understanding that person possessed at the time. This doesn’t lessen the pain of what happened, but it does help with the healing.

Sometimes it takes a trained therapist or a qualified professional to help us work through past traumas. By all means, make that appointment, talk things through, seek help in dealing with your personal pain and in building your own emotional wellbeing. That call may be the most important first step you can ever take.*

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It is, I believe, a necessary exercise to ask ourselves the What if? questions. Often this refocuses our perspective and enlightens us to ways we can avoid repeating the same mistakes–or repeating, as a nation, the great mistakes of history.

In the case of The Man in the High Castle, we weave our prayers through the story line–prayers that we may never experience such diabolical authoritarianism in our lifetime, nor leave such a legacy to our children and their children.  Sometimes we need stories like this to help us strengthen our resolve to be the kind of people who have embedded in them the noble character traits of those who stand up for what is true, right and just.

Our imagination is an amazing (and undervalued) tool, but we must now, more than ever before, harness its power to tell better stories, dream bigger dreams and have the courage to let these transform us into the better people we need to be.

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* In Australia, Lifeline Crisis Support 13 11 14, or Beyond Blue http://www.beyondblue.org.au are both great places to start. There are also numerous qualified counsellors, psychologists and mental health professionals available. Check your local Yellow Pages for listings of those who are members of and recommended by registered professional associations.

 

Are We There Yet?

roadWhen I was 6, my parents, my sister and I boarded what seemed at the time to be an awesomely amazing Pan Am 747 and returned to the U.S.A. for around 18 months. In our blue Chrysler station wagon (with homemade desks in the back end for doing our school work) we traversed the country, staying in the homes of family and friends or in our Shasta trailer (translation: Australian ‘caravan’).

Those of you who have travelled with young children will know exactly how this went.

Driving through high mountain passes, in between majestic snow-capped mountain peaks, whose sides were splattered with aspen trees decked out in the brightest autumn colours . . .

“Are we there yet?”

Crossing a mountain stream whose babbling waters cascaded through the valley like a string of diamonds in the autumn sunlight . . .

“Are we there yet?”

Winding our way through a canyon with sheer, red cliffs rising on both sides, the clear blue sky creating a picture worthy of the world’s highest-esteemed gallery . . .

“Are we there yet?”

As a few elk meandered across a snowy meadow in the moonlight . . .

“Are we there yet?

As yachts moved gracefully through the dancing waves of Lake Michigan . . .

“Are we there yet?”

In the stillness of a forest, with the verdant greenery encapsulating our car in the dappled, dewy morning light . . .

“Are we there yet?”

I was destination-driven. I had a single-track focus. Riding in the back of our family car was an inconvenience that I had to endure on the way to the ultimate goal: grandma’s house, Disneyland, camping with my aunts and uncles, or wherever the journey ended.

But what if . . .? What if I noticed the patterns of sunlight through the trees? What if I actually enjoyed watching the glorious mountain scenery as drove all too swiftly through it? What if I stopped to feel the fresh breeze as it bounced off the blue water? What if the journey was the goal, not the destination?

There are so many clichéd lines written about ‘journey.’ This metaphor has become somewhat part of an Oprahfied motivational vocabulary that we pass back and forth on Facebook in an attempt to appear to our friends to be wiser and deeper than we actually are.

“Sooner or later we must realize there is no station, no one place to arrive at once and for all. The true joy of life is the trip.” — Robert J. Hastings

“Life is a journey that have a lot different paths, but any path you choose use it as your destiny.” ― Ryan Leonard

“It is better to travel well than to arrive.” — Arthur C. Custance

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” ― Henry Miller

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ― Lao Tse

“Not all those who wander are lost.”  ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

“The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

“Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.”— Sir Winston Churchill

“I took the road less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.”— Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

The reality is that we are all travelling. We all have our own version of the travel journal.

High School Graduation.

“Are we there yet?”

Meeting our one true Love.

“Are we there yet?”

Marriage.

“Are we there yet?”

Birth of our first child.

“Are we there yet?”

Finally getting that promotion at work.

“Are we there yet?”

Buying our first home.

“Are we there yet?”

Taking our child to school for the first day.

“Are we there yet?”

Landing that new job and moving house.

“Are we there yet?”

Taking that first big overseas holiday.

“Are we there yet?”

And so it goes, day after day, year after year.

I know. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. “Just one more mountain.” “It’s just beyond the next bend.”

What if we find that we have been ‘there’ all along, and that what we have experienced is of far greater importance than the point where our travels end.

What if our biggest challenge for the part of our journey called ‘today’ is to be fully present, to explore, appreciate, and enjoy what we encounter instead of being the one in the back seat who, every five minutes, pipes up with the refrain, “Are we there yet?”

We may just stumble across–

the beautiful,

the glorious,

the majestic,

the refreshing,

the abundant,

the breathtaking

and far, far more than we ever dared to expect.

We may just find that, “The journey is the reward.”