Sometimes I can barely remember what it felt like to be seventeen. Enough years have passed that many of the memories have begun to fade. Names and faces that I once swore I’d never forget are little more than footnotes in my story. At the time I believed I was living the best days of my life. In some ways, I guess I was. I try to recall the excitement that surrounded the first day of my senior year of high school and my memory fails me. Perhaps that is because I have had thirty-eight years to think about all of the dreams and plans that never came to pass. It is hard to conjure up the sense of wonder I felt as I looked to the future. I am forty-five now and I know how the story ends. Well, I know how that chapter of the story ends.
I thought I was going to be a school teacher. I assumed that I would teach either English or History. I also believed that I would one day be a published author. I had been writing stories since I was eleven or twelve and by the time twelfth grade rolled around I had a reputation among my circle of friends. Most of them thought I would eventually write something that would get published. I typically wrote horror stories but I did dabble with song lyrics and poetry. I don’t think I was very good but back then I was proficient. I probably wrote at least one story a day for a year.
It would be interesting to read some of them now but they were all lost years ago. I believe they were unintentionally thrown out with letters from my old girlfriend. I don’t know that the world has suffered a great loss because of this but I do wonder how “bad” they really were. At the time I thought they were good. A lot of my friends thought they were good too. However, I know how well I write now, nearly forty years later, and I can’t believe they were any better than the things I write now. I do wonder about the stories though. Was there anything in there worth pulling out and trying to salvage? Most of them were slasher stories so I can’t imagine there would much to work with.
September of 1987 was so full of promise. It many ways it was a new beginning for me. I had broken up with my girlfriend (for good) over the summer and we were not on the best of terms. I do regret that things ended on such a negative note. We had been really good friends before we started dating and I honestly missed that part of our relationship. Unfortunately, I was a seventeen year old boy and that sort of thing didn’t occur to me. Truthfully, I was hurt and the only way I knew to respond was to hurt her back. So that’s what I did. I am not proud of it and if I could go back and change it I would. I wouldn’t want to be romantically involved with her again, but I do wish I hadn’t been so hateful to her that year.
There is another thing that I think I would go back and do differently. I dropped out of band my senior year and I have regretted it my whole life. I usually believe that the past isn’t something that should be messed with. First of all, we can’t change it. There isn’t a single thing that we can do about it. We can only learn from it and move on. Secondly, I have seen enough movies to know that messing around with past events inevitably distorts the present. I know this is nothing more than hypothetical speculation but I do think about things like this. I quit band to be my English teacher’s student assistant. I did that because I was told that it would help my chances for getting scholarships to be a teacher. I also knew that being in band would mean spending a lot of time around my ex-girlfriend and I didn’t want that.
I immediately regretted my decision. A new band director came into the program that year and he brought excitement to it. I remember having a brief conversation with him during the first couple of days of school where he tried to convince me to stay. Unfortunately, my English teacher had me convinced that I needed to be her assistant if I was serious about being a teacher. By the end of the year I honestly could not stand her. I nearly failed her class and I honestly believe she treated me unfairly. She was instrumental in my decision to not be a teacher. Watching my friends in band have fun and go off on trips only made me hate her more. I now realize that I should have made the best of the situation but for the longest time, I blamed her for making me miss out on band that last year.
I often wonder how much that one decision affected my future. I was working at Pizza Inn by this point and was starting to make friends outside of school. Because I had dropped out of band I was available to work more hours. I spent less time with my friends at school, most of whom were in band, and spent more time at work. That is how I got involved in playing in a rock band. I met the drummer at work and became good friends. I started hanging out with him and eventually wrote some lyrics for them. I eventually joined them after I graduated. That shifted the path that I was on drastically. I no longer wanted to go off to college. Being in the band became my focus.
There are other things that were affected. I had consumed alcohol before, but drinking wasn’t something I did on a regular basis, until I started working so much. I was around people who were older than me and they had no problem providing alcohol. Many of them sat around and drank with us. Pizza Inn still sold alcohol back then so there was a constant supply. Even some of the managers would sit and drink with us at night after the store closed. Had I been in band, I would not have worked nearly as much. In fact, it is quite possible that I would have quit the job so I could be more involved in band. I don’t know that for certain but I do know that I would not have been there so much had I been doing something else.
I guess the biggest one comes back to my ex-girlfriend. I sometimes wonder if we would have gotten back together had I stayed in band. We would have spent a lot of time together and some of the relationships that developed away from school might not have happened. I do believe that I would have eventually quit Pizza Inn if I had stayed in band. That may not seem like such a big deal. After all, it was just a job I had in high school. While that is true, it is important to remember it is also how I met my wife. Think about that for a minute. Do seemingly insignificant choices affect our lives in dramatic ways?
Let’s say that the band director had successfully talked me into staying in band. I am no longer up under that English teacher every single day. I no longer grow to resent her for making me miss out on band. Therefore, I don’t blow off her class in a ludicrous attempt to “get back” at her. My other grades don’t suffer because I stop caring about school. I don’t torpedo my chances of going to college and becoming a teacher. I quit working (or at least scale back) so I can be involved in band. I don’t spend all of that time with those guys at work. I never join that rock band. I never spend all those nights drinking after work. Most importantly, I never meet Robin.
I know that some people believe that we’re destined to meet certain people and have certain things happen to us regardless of the decisions we make. They say things like, “If it’s God’s will to happen, it will happen.” While I do believe that God is omniscient and omnipotent, I think He allows us to do certain things without exerting His control over us. That’s how I believe free will works. God sees and knows everything that we will do, but we are still the ones making the choices. Does He put people in our lives to steer us? Of course. Does He allow some things to happen so we change? Absolutely? Does He have only one single path for us to follow? I’m not so sure about that one. I think there are many different roads we can choose that still allow us to be in God’s will.
Could I have married someone other than Robin? Yes. Could it have been a successful marriage? Yes. Could it have pleased God? I think so. However, I do believe that Robin is the BEST option I could have chosen. I often say that I don’t believe in the concept of soul mates. I don’t know that God has one single person picked out for each of us and that no matter what choices we make, we still end up with that person. I guess it’s romantic and makes good movies, but I don’t think I buy it. I think we are to become the soul mate of whoever it is when marry. It is a choice. Robin IS my soul mate because we have chosen to make it happen. I do believe she is the one God wants me to be with because I am with her. I will do everything within my power to love her and be with her until one of us is no longer here.
So, back to the question at hand. Did that one choice I made when I was seventeen create the life that I now live? At the very least, I do believe it closed some doors and opened others. There were many other choices I faced that could have altered the outcome. How many of those seemingly unimportant decisions factor in to where I am now? Truthfully, I don’t think we can answer questions like that. It does make for good speculation though, so long as we’re not sitting back and regretting every single choice we have made. I have a good life. Perhaps that is why I can sit down and ask these questions without getting depressed. There have been times in my life when I wasn’t happy and I wondered if I had made wrong choices. These same questions tormented me instead of bringing me peace.
I am a man of faith. I am flawed at times but I have a sincere faith in God. I believe it is because of His love and grace that I am where I am today. He could have let me derail many times. I confess, I have made some terrible choices in my life. Looking back, they seem like the wrong choices. I damaged myself and I damaged others. But I have to wonder, how did they contribute to my current life? I really do believe that God allows us to mess things up but not without giving us opportunities to get back on the right path. Isn’t that what grace is? God uses broken people in spite of their brokenness. He redeems flawed, sinful humans and makes something righteous out of them.
As much as I believe in free will, I still believe that God does have a plan for each and every one of us. I don’t know if every single step is written out beforehand. If so, then every single misstep must be written out as well. I know that there are people who believe it works that way. I admit, there are times when I am compelled to think that way as well. The truth is that I just don’t know. Part of me feels like there are an endless amount of opportunities and experiences out there waiting for us. We spend a lot of time trying to decide what is God’s will in our lives. I think we often miss out on things because we are worrying too much about it. I have come to believe that He will use us in spite of the choices we make, if we will just let Him.
I am thankful that I am where I am today. I am thankful for my wife. I am thankful for my children. I honestly don’t worry about past decisions as much as I used to, there’s no need to. As I said, I can’t change a single one of them. God has redeemed whatever mistakes I have made and I need live in the present. I need to make the most of the life I am living right this minute. I think it is okay to look back and learn as long as we don’t dwell on it. I also think it’s okay to look to the future and plan things as long as we understand that there are many different doors that might swing open at any given moment. Like I said, live for today. Make a difference today. Serve God and love others…today.