Someone asked me the other day if I had studied abroad while at Northeastern. I told them I had the opportunity in my junior year but I turned it down. I had no desire to leave Boston or incur extra expenses for my parents, who were paying for my education at the time. I wasn’t much of a traveler; instead I enjoyed hanging out with friends and living in the city.
After that conversation, something began gnawing at me. What if I had known? What if I knew the challenges I would face after college?
I was diagnosed with my disease in high school, but I didn’t grasp its magnitude. I had no symptoms, so I didn’t find it necessary to do any research. I had no inclination that it would manifest so quickly. In retrospect, this casual attitude towards my condition was both a blessing and a curse.
If I knew the struggles I would experience after graduation, would I have traveled more? If that was the only decision I would be faced with, then absolutely. I would have taken the opportunity to travel somewhere – Europe, Australia, maybe even South America. I was fully-able in college, energetic and without limitations. Even though I didn’t have much money at the time, I would have found a way to explore the world while I still could. I would have appreciated that I had a narrow window of opportunity and I would have taken advantage of my mobility. Under these circumstances, I certainly wish I had traveled more.
But I don’t feel regret, mainly because I know that advanced knowledge of my disease would have had far-reaching ramifications. Had I known my condition, had I truly understood that seven years after graduation I would be falling regularly, and that I would have to purchase a scooter to travel long distances, I would have been crushed by the knowledge. It would have been too much for me to deal with while trying to remain a normal, fun-loving college student. College is the last period in your life before the real world takes away your remaining innocence. Life shouldn’t beat you down so soon.
Considering the emotional struggle I encountered when my symptoms manifested, I don’t think I would have handled this foresight very well while still in school. I would have felt like a ticking time bomb, always wondering if an ache or a pain or a feeling of weakness would be the start of my descent into disability. Perhaps I would have been so paranoid and depressed that I wouldn’t have found the enjoyment in traveling abroad.
On the other hand, maybe I would have enjoyed each day even more, and taken the opposite approach. I could have been galvanized by my impending limitations. The truth is I have no idea, and I never will have any idea. I shouldn’t go back and wonder what could have been, because the past is past. I lived the best I could with the information I had available at the time. Could I have done some more research on my disease? Of course, although it probably would have exposed me earlier to the dark reality I would soon face. Being naive isn’t always so bad.
At the end of the day, I take comfort in the knowledge that everything seems to have turned out the way it was supposed to. Had anything in my past occurred differently – earlier understanding of my condition, traveling abroad when I had the opportunity – I don’t think the sequence of events would have taken place that have put me in the situation I am in today. Any change in my mix of frustration, sadness, pain, and ultimately, determination, could have led me to a much different future. Maybe I wouldn’t have been as motivated as I am today, or I might have put myself in a situation where I fell and got hurt. Maybe I wouldn’t be walking right now. Looking in the past is counter-productive. It is trying to change something that cannot, under any circumstances, be changed. I have to be content with how things turned out, and I am.
Besides, the greatest travels are the ones still ahead of me, greater than any semester-long trip across the ocean. I do not know my ultimate destination, but I know that I am on the road less traveled.
One thought on “What If?”
The one thing you learn in life is that you can’t change the past. You can only do your best with the future. Leave the past where it belongs.