On the news beat: What if we stop saying 'What if?'

I had a near-death experience a few days ago. Well, maybe “near death” is an exaggeration, but it certainly felt like my life flashed before my eyes at the time.
I was driving to Hickory on Interstate 40 for an interview, when suddenly a large SUV traveling immediately to my right merged into my lane. The vehicle came out of nowhere. In a split second, I jerked the wheel of my car to the left, slammed on the car horn and pulled into the left lane to avoid the vehicle barreling toward my car.
The offending car cruised by me, the driver raised his hand in apology and it was all over. I wasn’t dead. There were no collisions. Cars drove by me as if nothing happened.
The only things that remained out of the ordinary were my elevated blood pressure and pounding heart.
Sitting safely in my apartment that night, I started thinking about the “what ifs” of my near-death experience. What if I left the office earlier for the interview? I would have missed the SUV completely.
What if I were on the phone? Could I have reacted quickly enough to merge away from the SUV? And the “what if” I still don’ t like to think about: what if there was a car in the left lane when I jerked my car away from the oncoming SUV?
I didn’t look when I suddenly merged away from the SUV. I just did it.
Thankfully, there wasn’t a car there. But what if there was? I undoubtedly would have collided with the other car and possibly caused other crashes. It was a narrow miss, and I was very lucky.
Of course, the “what ifs” can continue forever, if I let them. I’m the kind of person who likes things to conclude neatly. I don’t like loose ends, unanswered questions or messy endings when it comes to anything, from movies and news to relationships.
Those neat and tidy endings, however, rarely happen. Things don’t end how we hope. We don’t always make the right decisions. People enter and leave our lives, and sometimes, it’s not for the best.
We’re left with the “what ifs” when those things happen, a reminder that our lives are shaped by a series of seemingly inconsequential decisions.
It’s not easy to put aside the lingering questions. Even at 23, I sometimes wonder where I would be if I made different choices five years, one year or even two months ago.
The truth is, those questions and reflections can be a good thing. My almost-crash a few days ago will keep me more alert on the roadways, and it reminds me just how easy it is to make a potentially fatal mistake.
The “what ifs,” however, can be debilitating. They can paralyze us with doubt, fear and indecisiveness, which prevent us from leaving the house, let alone make an important decision.
So, what if we stopped saying, “What if?” altogether?
Would our lives be easier? Would our decisions carry less weight when we know there will be no hindsight consequences?
I don’t think we’ll ever know, and I don’t think we’re meant to. I believe things happen for a reason. The little things in our lives add up to big things, but the “what ifs” shouldn’t comprise our lives.
It’s the “I dids” that shape who we are and what we become.
I’ll never be able to completely let go of the “what ifs” in my life, but at the very least, I’ll always glance over my shoulder the next time I merge into oncoming traffic.

Jordan-Ashley Baker is a reporter for The Observer News Enterprise. Her column appears in the Wednesday edition of The O-N-E