Here’s a story I wrote about 2 months ago;
“What If?” by Steven Edelman October 21, 2019
Bill Buckner must have repeatedly asked the “What if?” question of himself for years after the Boston Red Sox lost the 1986 MLB World Series. What if he, the Red Sox first baseman that made an error during the 9th inning that changed the game and the series, scooped up the ball perfectly for an out and the Sox became champions? What if his teammates stayed in Boston and the team played with winning results for the next decade? What if they became a legacy that will be remembered for generations?
“What if?” is a question that goes beyond sports. It’s an examination that we all ask about ourselves following mistakes we’ve made or some tragedy and how it affected our lives. The answer, the majority of the time, is something more positive which we wished had happened and leaves us unhappy with the life we are currently living. It’s counterfactual thinking and it’s a way to avoid facing uncomfortable truths of our experiences.
Around 12 years ago I was a sports journalist in San Diego that made a decision that changed my life and those that are close to me. A had too much to drink at a party and thought it would be a good idea to get some attention from others by pulling a risky trick on the third-floor deck. Unfortunately, during my attempt, I fell 25 feet all the way down to the concrete below. I was unconscious and an ambulance took me to the ER where the doctors concluded that I had a Traumatic Brain Injury. There was severe damage to parts of my brain and it wasn’t unclear as to what can be healed.
After I woke up from a 3-month coma, my recovery began. In a rehabilitation hospital, I had to re-learn how to walk, how to speak, understand information when listening to others and grasp as to how I ended in the hospital, to begin with. The process was challenging and demanding. Nonetheless, over several years I gained most of what I had lost.
It seems like the usual positive ending of this story, but it wasn’t that simple. I was angry. I was angry with God as to why I, a drunken man, was given another chance while other people are not. I was angry with friends that didn’t understand why I was different from the person I used to be before the accident. I was angry at myself for putting all the people I loved in stress and pain. Mostly I was angry with myself for not appreciating what I had until it was gone.
That’s when my “What if?” self-talk started. What if this accident never happened? What if I continued my career as a sports journalist and I didn’t have to stop for my recovery? What if my relationship with my friends and family continued to grow? What if I didn’t lose all that time and when traveling? What if there were other opportunities that I missed during my time healing? The questions never ended and I fell again in a dark place with no idea how to get out.
The way I eventually got out of this depression was to stop denying my past by creating a made-up “What if” story that was unrealistic and I had to great a new present. It was about changing my pattern to a new one where I was in control. In many cases accidents are out of our control, but how we absorb them is.
Since the accident, I easily forget peoples’ names, it’s not as easy to learn new information, and I’m not exactly who I was in my past. Yet this is a new chapter in my life where I have different expectations and new priorities. I have a supportive wife and a newborn son who gets nothing but my love and attention. I’m not denying my past and what has happened, however, I am part of something bigger than an “error” I made and overcame.
The truth is that Bill Buckner never played the “What if?” self-talk game with himself, despite that he and his family were threatened after his mistake. He took responsibility for the error and found a way to overlook the anger that Red Sox fans and the media had created for a long time. Buckner was only concerned about his family and he understood that one misstep does not describe a person’s character.