Monday, March 17, 2014

The saddest words - It might have been


“Of all sad words of tongue or pen,
the saddest are these, It might have been.”
John Greenleaf Whittier wrote these powerful words in his poem,  "Maud Mueller," published in Pamphlet in 1856.  An American poet and Quaker who fiercely opposed slavery, he was strongly influenced by my favorite Scottish poet Robert Burns.

It was 158 years ago when Whittier wrote those immortal words.  Just seven years later the Emancipation Proclamation, a presidential proclamation, was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863 freeing all slaves in America.

On April 9, 1865 General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant formally ending the Civil War and abolishing slavery forever, and just six years later the greatest president in our history was assassinated after leading our nation through it's darkest hours.

Destiny?  Certainly Lincoln had premonitions of his upcoming death.  If George Washington was the Father of America then Abraham Lincoln was most certainly the Soul of America sent to the promised land in our hour of most need.  In the end he gave everything including his life to save a struggling nation and make it a beacon to the rest of the world with a Constitution guaranteeing individual freedom and equal opportunity.

Robert Burns inspired other people besides Whittier.  Burns lived during the American (1776) and French (1789) revolutions and greatly admired those people who would challenge the powerful monarchies that controlled them.  A prolific poet and lyricist,  his poem and song "Auld Lang Syne" is sung throughout the world as New Year dawns.  Born January 25, 1759 he died July 21, 1796 when he was just 37 years old.

American novelist John Steinbeck used Burn's works for the title of his 1937 novel "Of Mice and Men."  When asked for the source of his greatest creative inspiration, singer and songwriter Bob Dylan selected Burn's 1794 song "A Red, Red Rose" as the lyric that had the biggest effect on his life.  Author J. D. Salinger borrowed from Burn's poem "Comin' Through the Rye" for his 1951 novel "The Catcher in the Rye."

Even I was drawn to Burns and his wonderful talent when I discovered that a distant Scottish relative,  Mary Campbell, was one of his first loves and the subject of several early poems.  Their relationship was the subject of much conjecture and it has been suggested that on May 14, 1786 they exchanged Bibles and "plighted their troth over the Water of Fail" in a traditional Scottish wedding.

In August of the same year she was caring for her brother who had typhus and caught the disease herself eventually dying at the age of 23 in Campbeltown, Scotland, an ancient town founded by my ancestors of the Campbell clan.
At any rate, while the historical perspective is interesting it is the poignant, melancholy and sentimental words of Whittier one should ponder.  What do they mean in your life?  Are they your final testament because you did not have the courage to follow your heart instead of your mind?  Or can you still escape from the sadness of knowing something might have been?

Perhaps you never had a choice in the matter.  Over and over in my life things happened, not of my making or doing, that radically altered my life, shattered my dreams or broke my heart.  Some were my fault or choice, others were when I was a victim of the cruel hand of fate.
Some were big and others were small yet they all were definitive lessons that I really wished I didn't have to learn.  Don't get me wrong or feel sorry for me, they were my path, not yours, and I am certain there was some kind of mystical or spiritual reason for the experience.

I remember once I spent years with a childhood friend and classmate before I realized  his older sister was my soul mate.  It was something I never expected.  She was the most beautiful girl I ever knew and I was always amazed at how the older boys were lined up to take her out.  She was also very smart, talented and worked hard to hide her many attributes.
For some reason, perhaps my lack of discretion or desire to talk to everyone, or the fact I never beat around the bush but always was frank, honest and kept conversations in total confidence, she always treated me like a confidant in spite of a couple of year's age difference.  It seemed I was always far more comfortable with older and more mature people.

Over the years I became her sounding board about boys, life, the world and whatever else she wanted to discuss.  When her family moved to the next state I would visit her brother several times a year and spend time talking to her when I was in town.
After about 12 years of knowing her, when I was a junior in high school, things suddenly changed when I drove to her home.  Bear in mind that in spite of my maturity I was always in awe of her and being her friend was about the best thing I ever did.  But I was also no fool so I was aware my chances of ever being intimate with her, or her wanting to go out with me, were about the same as dating Audrey Hepburn or Natalie Wood.
On this particular visit I noticed she seemed really sad and when she went out for a walk behind her house I followed to find out the problem.  By the time I caught up with her she was sitting on a fallen tree trunk and I sat down beside her.  No person that nice and beautiful deserved to be sad so I started singing the Elvis song "Are you lonesome tonight" and to my absolute surprise she started laughing.

I asked her if I was that bad and she said I wasn't, but it was just what she needed to stop feeling sorry for herself.  So we talked.  For hours it seemed.  She told me about all the creeps who wanted to date her for a trophy, how insincere they were and how she wished people could just be honest and respectful, like me.
Finally she asked what I thought of her, really thought of her.  I admitted it would be impossible to give her any objective assessment because I had been madly in love with her since I was in 1st grade.  After she stopped laughing it took me about 20 minutes to convince her I really was hopelessly in love with her.
As she pondered on my dilemma she acknowledged I was the only person she could discuss anything with and never worry about being judged, she trusted me to keep her secrets, and that I always had something intelligent or funny to make her feel better.  Why was it so easy to talk to me she wondered?  And why did I care enough about her to try and help her if she was feeling bad or make her laugh when she was sad?
Eventually she concluded I really did care for her.  What she wanted most was to find someone who treated her like I did.  By this point I was praying to God to let her kiss me on the cheek or something in appreciation.  Then she said why do I need to find someone like you when I already know you?

That dangling modifier left me dangling and speechless.
Over the next year I made several trips to see her brother and her and we spent more and more serious time together.  Hugs grew into kisses and neither of us had any interest in any other person being part of our lives.  Of course we still had college to get through but we agreed to let our parents know how we felt about each other before I went away to college.
One day that summer before I left for the University of Arizona she called and said she was going to fly down where I lived in a corporate plane from her father's company so we could tell my parents about us.  Then I would drive her back home so we could tell her parents.  By now we felt so strongly and comfortable about each other that being engaged seemed insignificant.  This was the person I would share my life with.
No more would we have to sneak around hiding our relationship.  As I waited at home for her to call and say she landed I was listening to the music of the British invasion on the radio when a news bulletin came on that a corporate plane had crashed a few miles from the airport and there were no survivors.

As the weight of the world crashed down on my shoulders I just knew it was her and my heart sank.  She was gone forever.  Our secret would never be revealed.  Our life would never be shared with each other.
I was engulfed in a darkness that seemed to suck the life out of me.  I did not know what I did to deserve such a fate and I did not understand why such a beautiful soul had to be taken from this world when she had so much to offer.
In the end  I was very angry with God for a long time to come.

It was not the first time the line "the saddest words of tongue or pen are these four words it might have been" haunted me and conjured up all kinds of shattered dreams, but this time the line was empowered like never before, and it pierced my heart like no other event in my life.
Though I had no choice nor fault nor blame in the tragic event I took it personal and wondered if she was gone because of me.  If I had never pursued our long distance relationship wouldn't she still be alive?  I lost my Earth Angel but in the end I guess I got my Angel in Heaven to help watch over me and I could only hope that the Kingdom she was now in was a far better cry than what we have here.

Many years later the passage of time seemed to lessen the anger and allow me to realize that we are all on our own separate paths and though our paths may cross and even run parallel for a time it does not diminish the fact we each have our own Sacred Covenant with Divine Providence and we will depart when our time has come.
Rather than harbor bitterness or anger over the loss of a loved one, an act which I came to recognize as somewhat selfish, I became aware of how blessed I was to have spent any time on this Earth in the company of an Angel.
As my memory of her shifted from the tragic conclusion of our relationship in the ashes of a plane crash to the wonderful time we did have when we were together, and to the beautiful hopes and dreams we shared of a life together, I think I began to understand the real meaning of love and life.

Love is the spiritual bond between two souls allowing them to share both creating and creation in life and of life and it transcends the physical world and human definitions as we discover perfect love together.

Whether you call it the Christ consciousness or the conquering of human ego and spiritual dualism, perfect love is accepting co-creator responsibility for all that is, recognizing the life force in all of creation, and giving all of your existence to caring for the gifts of creation we experience in this life and any future existence.
Life is the record of our progress in this journey of our soul during this existence, a stepping stone in our Sacred Covenant leading toward our path home.
Do not waste your opportunities in life.  Do not embrace "it might have been."


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