On Wednesday, 6 February 2002, I was meant to go to St Andrews for the day. Only the friend I was meant to travel with was ill, so I decided to wander around The Royal Mile looking for souvenirs for my family back home in America.
On that same day, a man I’d never met was meant to be working in England, but a couple of Scotland-based employees were ill so he had to work on the shop floor on The Royal Mile.
Those two small changes meant that I met Paul. And that meant that both of our lives were forever changed.
Some days, I find myself wondering what would have happened had we never met. I wonder how different my life would be. I wonder if I would have met someone else. I wonder if our lives would have crossed paths at all. And I wonder if Paul would still be alive.
But I also wonder about the impact of our meeting on the lives of others. After all, if we hadn’t met, and my life went even partially to pre-Paul plans, I would have entered straight into a master’s programme after I completed my undergraduate degree and I probably wouldn’t have ended up living on the Palouse, or back in Scotland.
There are so many people I never would have met, which means there are so many people I never would have introduced to someone else. And with all of those missed connections, I wonder how many people would have had different lives. After all, some of those connections have meant jobs, romances, travel, and friendships. And those connections have meant other connections, and so on and so on.
And what about the people I would have met, had my life been different? What would their lives be like today if I had never stepped into that shop eleven years ago? Are they better or worse off for not having met me? Am I better or worse off for not having met them?
But, mostly, I wonder if one little change could have saved Paul’s life. I just don’t know what that change would have been. Maybe if we hadn’t met? Maybe if we never moved to Garfield? Maybe if we hadn’t gone on that last holiday? Could one change have meant a better outcome for Paul? Or would it have meant something worse for him?
I know that whatifs are silly things to imagine because our entire lives are built on random little events that we barely give a moment of thought to and we just have to acknowledge that our lives are what they are. After all, if my grandmother never wrote a letter to my grandfather, would I have even been born?
I have to have faith that the path these random events lead me down will be a path of joy and peace – even when the path I’m on seems narrow and is filled with twists and turns and potholes and rickety stairs.
[Note: That’s a photo of me and Paul taken June 2008. One little change could have meant missing out on all of that laughter!]