Great What Ifs In American History


Richard Warren, among 10 passengers in the lan...

When I was a sophomore in high school, I took my first AP class–it was American History, and the very idea of it was thrilling.  Sitting in a class listening to a real lecture, not just watching some movie with a “reading guide” that was, in all actuality, busy work of ‘filling in the blank’.

My AP U.S. History teacher was eccentric.  He had several “catchphrases” that were peppered through his lectures.  After making a point, for instance, he’d say without fail, “Well, there you go.”  But the best, the one that actually drove me nuts at some points, were the ramblings that took us off in another direction.  Lectures frequently started with “We all know that the Mayflower landed at Plymouth in 1620, but how many of you know that its original destination was the mouth of the Hudson River?” And a woven tale would take place, telling us of all the ‘chance’ happening that lead the would-be colonists from one ship, the Speedwell, the sister ship that took on water in the first 300 miles of journey, to the jam-packed Mayflower.  And the disease that consumed the Mayflower.  And the ‘surprise’ landing at Plymouth Rock instead of the Hudson.  Everything that happened, my professor seemed to think, was the stroke of luck and happenstance.  And after the tale of all the luck and fortune that lead to what we now know as our historic beginnings, the professor would delve back into the subject of “But what if the journey hadn’t ended at Plymouth?”  and a wild tale of could be, would be, should be would take place.  “Thanksgiving might not exist.” “What about the use of corn? The planting that was taught there?” all of these things that are down right unimaginable were described, whipping the entire room into a downright frenzy.

History went on and without fail, more “What ifs?” popped up.  “What if General Johnston was allowed more control of the Confederate army?” “What if Nixon didn’t resign?”

My mind would be blown at how different life, or at the very least, American History could be.  And then, as quickly as he whipped you into this “OH MY GOD” hair-pulling frenzy, he’d simply say “But that is just another “What If?” of American history.”

Eventually, I started to hate getting worked up about things that weren’t really a part of reality. Somehow, at 16, I had great faith that things just happen the way they should.  And I had the same thought every single time a “great what if in American history” crept up.

SO WHAT?!” It didn’t happen that way.  Things happened and life turned out the way it did.  We spent thirty minutes talking about history and sixty minutes discussing what might have been.  And the stories were cool to think about, I suppose, but…they didn’t happen.

Somehow I’ve lost this outlook.  “What If?” consumes me a lot, especially lately. I’ve been bad lately, regretting a lot of my decisions and choices..not because I particularly miss someone in particular, but because I’m tired of having to relive how stupid I was.   I am constantly wondering about my life and letting my imagination get on the path of “could have.”

It’s all true.  I could have been nicer.  I could have gone home that night.  Could have not asked for that second box of cereal. I could have been stronger and turned down The Friend the first time (uh, or any time. Sorry.).  I could have handled the break up better.  I could have taken the internship in college.  Could have not been drunk the other night at the bar.  Could have parted ways in high school.  Could have gone to a different college.  Could have loved more.  Should have loved more.

There are so many great “What Ifs in Blonde History”.  In fact, if I looked back and could remember every single day of my relationship, I could probably come up with something that happened that, if I had behaved differently, things would be different today.  I could spend every hour of every day wondering how different things might be.

But, as my grandmother would say, it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.  Just like the “great what ifs” that I complained about in high school, “SO WHAT?”  My 16-year-old self would roll her eyes and say that “things happen for a reason”.  That who you are is who you’re supposed to be, where you are is just the same. I am alive, I’m healthy, I’m having fun (when I let myself!).  I talk about it a lot here, but I’ve done some pretty sweet things that I know would be possible if I wasn’t here I am today.  And the rest of it?  Who knows if things would be running as smoothly if I hadn’t made the choice I have made.

The Mayflower landed on Plymouth Rock.  I walked away from a relationship.  The world is turning and everything is as it should be.

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4 thoughts on “Great What Ifs In American History

    1. By the way, Citizen of the Month (the only foreign blog I read noaydaws) had come up with Thank Your First Commenter Day! In other words, to show appreciation to the very first commenter who left a comment on your blog.I think this is kinda nice because the first comment is always special…. like your first kiss. I am not getting hundreds and thousands of hits per day, but, I am somehow happy noaydaws a few fellow bloggers do drop by occasionally and never fail to leave a word or two.

  1. Ultimately, I beleive, that everything comes down to a binary decision: Yes or No, Do or Don’t, Left or Right (Even when you add Center, it’s still left or right — Left or Not left (if not left then the next choice is Center or Right))

    Even now, it’s “Read Blog” or “Work” and after “Read Blog” it’s “Write Comment” or “Get Back To Work”

    And ultimately we are the sum of our binary decisions, and the world is the sum of everyone’s binary decisions (drop a nuke on Japan or not?) — and it’s kind of pointless though intriguing to wonder about the “what ifs” — but if you had said no to “the Friend” maybe he wouldn’t be “the Friend” and you would have a different “the Friend” to wonder about.

    I guess what I’m saying is it’s difficult to extract one decision from those that came before or especially after that as they’re all related.

    One of my favorite books, Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, if I recall correctly, has a chapter on time travel where the premise is that you have to stay on this special walkway because you might step on and kill a rat (or was it an ant? anyway)… if you killed that rat of course none of it’s children would ever exist, and maybe the Black Plague would have never spread… and…

    Well… I feel like I’m being a little too philosophical this afternoon, so I’ll shut up now.

  2. Good post – was waiting to see how you wrapped it up and glad you reached the conclusion you did. Two things I’ve read over the years that deal with this aspect of life; 1) The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. I’m generally not a big “self-help” anything type (books, shows, etc.). This book, although well-aged by now, still provides great perspective and advice. However, before reading that, read Robert Frost’s poem “The Road not Taken”. I think that will affirm the conclusion you’ve come to … and make you feel pretty damn comfortable with that conclusion!

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