Friday, 10 February 2012

Beyond "What If?"

British wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill is often revered as one of the most important figures in World War II. His inspiring speeches galvanised the battered spirits of the British people, and his strong leadership inspired the British army and their allies towards victory. Any man of lesser resolve and determination would have caved in and surrendered to the then mighty Nazi Germans.

That is what everyone knows. What very few people know is the fact that Churchill nearly died about 10 years before World War II. No, he didn't nearly die in some battlefield somewhere in the then vast British Empire. He nearly died after he was knocked down by a taxi in New York City! Churchill had an American mother so he was probably there for a social visit. He did not die but the injuries sustained were serious enough he had to be hospitalised for an entire week.

"What if?" is a question many would ask while imagining alternative eventualities in life. What if Churchill had died? Would the Germans successfully conquered Great Britain and gained absolute control of Western Europe? If that had happened, perhaps most of us today would be reading and writing in German rather than in English, and perhaps most football fans in the world would be following the Bundesliga rather than the English Premier League.

One may ask "what if?" for any issues, from the most profound to the most trivial. What if Hussein Onn had persevered and appointed Ghazali Shafie (instead of Mahathir Mohamad) as Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister in 1976? Mahathir probably would never become prime minister, ousted most likely from the government by Ghazali and forced to return to his Maha Clinic in Alor Star. No Mahathir, no Proton Saga, no Penang Bridge, no KLCC, and no KLIA. How backwards Malaysia would still be ;)

What if Eric Cantona had joined Liverpool, and not Leeds United and eventually Manchester United in the early 1990's? In 1992, Liverpool manager Graeme Souness was asked by Michel Platini (then manager of the French national team) to bring the talented yet temperamental young striker to England. Souness refused the offer so Cantona went to Leeds United instead. Leeds won the league that season. He was sold to Manchester United the next season and the club immediately won the league for the first time in more than two decades and went on to win more league titles over the years, enough to even surpassed Liverpool's proud long-standing record of 18 English league titles. Liverpool of course depressingly has not won the league since 1990.

Pondering with "what if" may also be an act of regret for not doing something that perhaps could have prevented a tragedy from happening. Former Wales manager and football player Gary Speed died tragically a few months ago. Most likely, he had committed suicide but expert testimony given during the coroner's inquest suggests that it might have been purely accidental. Whichever, it will not take the pain away from Gary Speed's wife who confessed that she and Gary had an exchange of words about "something or nothing" the last time she saw him alive. She went out for a ride to clear her mind but soon returned home only to find she had accidentally locked herself out. She spent the night in the car and in the morning found her husband's body hanged in the garage.

Imagine how it feels like that your very last conversation with your late spouse was an unpleasant one. Imagine the "what if" that goes through Mrs. Speed's mind. "What if I did not leave the house?"; "What if I had brought my house keys with me?"; "What if I did not make such a big deal about the 'something or nothing' we had argued about?" Imagine that... Well, I certainly can. The circumstances surrounding my wife's death were certainly different. She certainly did not take her own life but we did have our own incident over 'something or nothing' on that fateful day. And because of that, I have continued to ask myself "what if" I had done this or that, and "what if" I had said something that night.

It's not easy to move beyond these "what if's'". One cannot choose to have selective amnesia. I cannot simply extract specific data from my brain and delete it from my memory. It stays with me and continues to haunt me. Deal with it one must and as a Muslim, I've learned to accept all that has happened as God's will, the wisdom of which I shall learn to understand for the rest of my life.

Fate is to be accepted, not questioned. To sometimes ask 'what if?' is instinctive, to be burdened by it however is maladaptive and un-Islamic. "I am enslaved to fate, of all else say no more; With a sweet tongue speak, else I plea say no more; Speak not of troubles, of treasures tell me more; And if of this you know not, be not troubled, say no more." (Rumi 149, Divan-e Shams)

For the first time in almost a year, I feel strong enough to move on, to finish all that I've started and to begin the search for a new mother for my three young children. Regaining some level of optimism is essential. Optimistic I am of many things, including for Liverpool to finally win their 19th league title next year (or sometime before the end of time:)) and for Roger Federer to finally beat Rafael Nadal at Rolland Garros. Churchill, Cantona AND Mahathir are best left to history.