Southwestern Indiana's Catholic Community Newspaper

Living In A Technicolor World



There are two phrases that I have been told never to use.

If only . . .

And what if . . .

The first phrase, “if only,” calls to mind impossibilities. We can’t change the past, even if we wish really hard.

The second phrase, “what if,” opens the door to fear of the future. What if a loved one gets cancer? What if the economy tanks? What if . . . ?

Both phrases offer the false notion that we have control about our future and about our past — which we don’t.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport waiting for a connecting flight to Phoenix. As I was talking to a young man seated near me, he told me that he had been “separated from the navy.” When I told him that I really didn’t understand the term, he said that he had been discharged from boot camp.

He seemed kind of in shock about what had happened to him, but he said the experience was harder on others, mentioning men who had sold everything they owned including their homes, hoping for a long connection with the military.

Thousands of people walk through the terminals at O’Hare every day. It’s a very international place; some of the passengers are Americans, and some are visitors here. Some are in a hurry because they are running late, and others amble through the corridors waiting for their planes to arrive. I love to people watch, and O’Hare is a feast for the eyes.

But that morning, the hustle and bustle of the crowd seemed to fade away as I listened to the young man talk. He spoke about feeling melancholy, and he told me that he was sad about the death of a relationship that he had hoped would fill his life.

After he talked a while, it was my turn.

I told him that a long time ago someone else made a decision about my life that devastated me, but now that I look back I know it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. And I realize that God had been right there with me during the devastation.

When I think about that time in my life, I know I was living in a black-and-white world. A few months after the crisis, I felt like a huge door opened right in front of me and the world that I saw ahead of me was in flaming technicolor.

That seems to be life, doesn’t it? Sometimes things are very bad, but the crisis ends and we find ourselves in a much better place.

I told the young man that he probably wouldn’t understand what I was saying until a few years had passed, but he took a long look at me, and said, “I do believe you.”

As we were talking he pulled out a small Psalms/New Testament that he was carrying in his pocket. He said he was reading it, and that it seemed to offer him some comfort. I suggested that he read the Twenty-third Psalm, which has always been soothing to me. He did, and then he smiled.

It was a chance meeting, and I never caught a glimpse of him after we boarded the plane or when we arrived in Arizona. I hope he’s okay. I hope things turn out for him, and that he finds himself emerging from his black-and-white world. Technicolor is such a wonderful place to live.

And it’s easier to enjoy when we don’t use the words “what if” and “if only.”