Yogi Berra once said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." That always gets a laugh, but it's not much help when you're looking for guidance. Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken" describes a process for deciding which fork in the road to take, but shows nothing of what might have happened if you had picked the other road. C S Lewis wrote, in The Chronicles of Narnia, "'To know what would have happened, child?' said Aslan. 'No. Nobody is ever told that.'"
So we all get one chance at each fork we encounter in the path of life. Then "way leads on to way" and we never get to come back and see where the other path would have led us.
There are a few major decisions I've made in my life that I just know were life-changing decisions. For example, I was 3 weeks away from receiving my commission as an officer in the U S Air Force in December of 1969 when the first Nixon Draft Lottery results were published. I came up with a very high number and probably would not be drafted. But I was already in the service. My decision, though, was not made for me. I could have dropped out of Air Force Officer Training School at that point and reverted to being a civilian college grad looking for a job.
What would have happened if I'd gotten out? "Nobody is ever told that."
Okay, no question, choosing to complete my training and receive my 2nd Lieutenant bars was a life-changing decision. That's easy to see. But we make small decisions every day. Like deciding to take a different route on the way home from work. What would have happened if we'd taken the usual one? "Nobody is ever told that."
I've been working on an autobiographical novel that will follow my life, relatively factually, up until that December 1, 1969, decision I made to stick with the USAF. I want to speculate (hence the "novel" designation) about what I would have become without the military phase of my life.
But how might my life have changed before that momentous decision?
I was an adolescent in 1960 when I figured out what girls were for. Or at least one of the things girls were for. I was with the neighbor girl in the woods in back of my house one summer afternoon and time passed swiftly and unnoticed. When my mother called me for dinner, I was suddenly terrified of my folks finding out I had spent all afternoon with a girl in the woods! I made her go back a different way and I showed up for dinner alone. Turns out that girl didn't have much to do with me after that.
What if she and I had come out of the woods together? What if Mom had invited her to eat with us? What if she had got permission from her mom? What if we had seen more and more of each other? What would have happened to my life?
"Nobody is ever told that."