I've been thinking a lot about how my decisions have impacted my life. It's easy to wake up in the morning and just carry on with life as we know it, so in that light I've been quite fascinated with the thought of "How did I get to where I am right now?"
Take fifth grade, for example. That was the year we started music classes in elementary school, and each of us had a choice to make: band, orchestra, or general music (for those who might not have been interested in a particular instrument). I think, up to that point in my life, this was the biggest decision I had ever faced. I remember thinking long and hard about it--finally narrowing my options down to flute or violin. I was interested in both instruments, but at one point actually leaned more toward the flute. The band teacher seemed more interesting to me, and for a little while at least it looked like I was going to sign up for the band.
What if I had?
I don't remember why now, but in the end I chose to play the violin. And I will forever be grateful for that decision, because many of the closest friends I would make throughout junior high and high school would be made in the orchestra. Just think of it! Had I chosen the flute, in my life there may have been no Joey, no Amber, no Sara, or Lydia, or Noel, or Tiffany, or Amy, or Stephanie, or Ellice. No Dave. And if there had been, we would have met under different circumstances, and possibly missed out on a lot of good things that would have come with the friendship we have now. Who knows? I certainly don't want to find out.
Then there's the piano. Where would I be without it? A little known fact is that during my fourth year of piano lessons, I wanted to quit. I really, really wanted to quit. I wasn't at a level where I could just sit down and play whatever I wanted, and that was discouraging. Practicing was a chore to me, and even though I had the greatest piano teacher in the world, back then I didn't appreciate the lessons taking half an hour out of my week.
I guess this was more of my parents' decision than my own, but I'm grateful that they insisted on keeping me in the lessons, because within a couple more years I would fall in love with the piano. It became my greatest outlet when I needed an escape from the world, and the talent I discovered there would become a crucial piece of my very identity. For instance, on my mission I was the piano guy. If you needed a hymn, Elder Cunningham was one of the people you'd call. My sister lived in San Antonio while I was serving there, and when she'd talk to the missionaries and they didn't recognize my name, she'd just say something like "he plays the piano," and they'd remember me instantly. That's just who I am now; I can't see myself not as a pianist.
Speaking of the mission, that's another decision that has made a lasting impact on my life. I met so many of my current friends on my mission that it just feels like they've been around forever--that we grew up and went to high school together, and everything. In such a short time, we've built quite a history and relationship. And yet, as recently as three years ago, I didn't know any of them. No President Cutler, no companions, no members, recent converts, investigators. . . . If I didn't serve a mission, I would know none of these wonderful people. And I wouldn't even realize what I was missing.
Where would I be if I chose not to serve a mission?
I don't know.
I would think that at least a few of the lessons I learned as a missionary could have been learned here if I stayed, but certainly not all of them. I doubt I would have discovered my true passion for language, so I'd probably still be wondering what I wanted to do with my life. Or maybe I would have found another passion and already earned a college degree in that field. Perhaps someone I would have met on my mission--a companion, or leader, or whatever--would walk past me on the street one day, but we'd be such complete strangers that both of us would forget we passed each other right after it happened.
Life would be drastically different.
But that's another one of those things I would prefer not to find out about, because I know what I know now and I love what I have. I wouldn't trade any of my friends or experiences for anything, because they are what have made me me. And I like myself. I'm not perfect, by any means. But I like myself, and I wouldn't want to change my history and thereby alter the present and future, because I don't know if I'd like it. And who knows? Maybe I would. Actually, I wouldn't know any better, because I wouldn't have experienced what I have. So I'd rather not risk it.
Sometimes I lie awake just imagining alternate universes where my decisions are the opposite from real life. Yet no matter what I come up with, I am constantly humbled by the massive impact one little choice can make. If I traveled back in time, that would probably be the first piece of advice I'd give to myself.