By DEWAIN LANFEAR, Class of 1960
Several years ago I read a book that fascinated me. It was Repay by Ken Grimwood. Jeff Winston is the main character and on his 43rd birthday he dies of a heart attack. He immediately wakes up to find himself 25 years back in time in his own 18-year old body.
He retains all the memories of his previous life and the 25 years to come. As the story continues, he realizes that he can change what happened, and events don't necessarily repeat themselves. For example, his “wife” is not so anxious to date him this time around – she needs to be wooed.
I realize that when I was 43 I didn't yet know how things in my life would turn out. I was in the middle of my teaching career and had a 13-year old daughter and an 18-year old marriage. There was a long road ahead and a lot of forks in the road. As I read the book, I thought of the different directions my life could have taken.
Before I go any further down this road, I want to be clear about one thing – I'm thrilled with the way my life has turned out. Nothing that follows ought to be construed as a wish that I had taken a different path or made other choices. Certainly there are moments that were not my finest and unlike President Bush and Vice President Cheney, I do regret them and wish I had done otherwise. Nevertheless, as I've said many times at private and public reunions, if this is where we've come to, how bad could our choices have been.
Let's for a moment imagine that we are Jeff Winston and have a chance to relive our lives from age 18 onward. Faced with choices after high school, would we pursue alternative paths for school, military, career, or relationships? How different would the ensuing decades be if we changed just one of those early choices?
Robert Frost in “The Road Not Taken” describes coming to a turning point and with limited knowledge of where it would lead, choosing one path over another. He says that each choice would inevitably lead to a whole different set of choices further on and that there was no turning back. Finally, he says he tells this “with a sigh”.
Think of the many choices, conversations and decisions that put you on the path to where you are now. As you think of the alternatives, can you suppress the sigh?
Garth Brooks will have the last word here. In “The Dance”, he says that if he knew how things would end, he could have missed the pain, but he also would have missed the dance. So let's acknowledge that we had choices and did the best we could to make good ones, but no matter what, this is where we ended up, and I hope you can say, “how bad could it have been?"
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Photo of Dewain Lanfear in 2008 by Frank Barning.