“What if?” is a question with more layers and facets than probably any other stock question with the exception of “Why?”
It can be an incredibly ridiculous question. (And, as a byproduct, annoying.) My work with children makes me an expert in this category. My students are famous for questions on the level of “What if dinosaurs attack the school during a fire drill? What exit would we take then?” Or “What if someone forgets their recorder for the recital today?” These kind of questions usually warrant answers like: “We’ll deal with the T-Rex rampage when we get there–your job is to listen to the adults around you,” and “But, Dejah, you didn’t forget your recorder–you’re holding it right now.”
“What if” can also be a lament to missed chances. “What if I had come up with some really great and witty response when that guy in the grocery store line smiled at me?” “What if I were more ‘normal’ and I didn’t have to show everybody who I really am all the time?” “What if my sister and I connected on any level and I felt like I had a sister and not just a person I know whom I alternately wildly envy and am called on to parent and counsel?” I don’t like to spend too much time in this place–a person could drown in questions like this.
But most of all, “What if” is a dangerously profound question. “What if I hadn’t met Jesus when I was four?” “What if I had listened to everyone who told me I shouldn’t go into music?” “What if I gave in to all those voices that say I’m not the right this and not enough that?” “What if I hadn’t gotten on that plane and flown halfway around the world to take a job that completely changed my life?” These are the questions that reveal the deepest parts of the soul, those secret places that makes us who we are, the defining moments that we can never and would never take back.
Because these are the “What ifs” that combine into the person I am. These are the experiences that I share and those I don’t. These are the “What ifs” that make me say, “Yes, this is who I am. And I wouldn’t change it.”