“…and How They Might Have Been Yet If What Happened Had Not Happened.”

“I just lay there in the hammock. I lay there and watched the undersides of the oak leaves, dry and grayish and dusty-green, and some of them I saw had rusty-corroded-looking spots on them. Those were the ones which would turn loose their grip on the branch before long–not in any breeze, the fibers would just relax, in the middle of the day maybe with the sunshine bright and the air so still it aches like the place where the tooth was on the morning after you’ve been to the dentist or aches like your heart in the bosom when you stand on the street corner waiting for the light to change and happen to recollect how thing once were and how they might have been yet if what happened had not happened.”

–Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men

I’m re-reading this book for the fourth time now. I always remember certain passages very clearly, but forget what actually happens.

  • Manisa

    This passage is truly beautiful – thank you!

    • Octavia

      If you substituted” knowledge” for “truth” in the passage quoted by
      VetChangesWorld, it reads just as well and remains ever so applicable and authentic.

  • Penelope Schmitt

    That painful speculation, nostalgia for life going on as it was before whatever wreck crashed in on it, is entirely natural–and I guess we have to do it a little. But we had better not keep on doing it, or it will poison us surely. It isn’t real, and it takes energy away from NOW, which is the only place where life can be healed or improved.

    • Vicmly

      Yes, but it can enrich the now to be reminded. It’s all part of life, and there is beauty in the feeling.

  • Ahmad Badreddin

    I often do not like the word “What if”. because it’s useless, I admit it’s so hard to get rid of it. but I try not to think about it. because it’s a wasting of time.

  • Catherine Metzger

    I love this beautiful passage. Thank you so much for posting it.

    Though I try to reduce my “what if” thoughts (because they tend to drag me down) by being as present, as conscious of the now as possible, the reality is that loss requires a certain amount of grieving, of staying with the memories, not avoiding the memories of how it was and what one dreamed.

    Warren addresses this sense of mortality, of time passing and things changing, and the unavoidable reality of his physical pain associated with losing what he loves.

  • VetChangesWorld

    This one from that book is wonderful too – “The end of man is knowledge, but there is one thing he can’t know. He can’t know whether knowledge will save him or kill him. He will be killed, all right, but he can’t know whether he is killed because of the knowledge which he has got or because of the knowledge which he hasn’t got and which if he had it, would save him. There’s the cold in your stomach, but you open the envelope, you have to open the envelope, for the end of man is to know” – the paradox of life.

  • “…and the air so still it aches like the place where the tooth was on the
    morning after you’ve been to the dentist or aches like your heart in the
    bosom when you stand on the street corner waiting for the light to
    change and happen to recollect how thing once were and how they might
    have been yet if what happened had not happened.”

    THIS…defines with almost complete precision how I have been feeling lately. Thank you thank you thank you.

  • Jeanne

    What might have been is always a temptation, but lately, I’m replacing it with the faith that things are happening just as they should. Yesterday I made plane my reservation for my annual visit back east. I looked at the calendar and made the reservation with absolute certainty. No sooner had I finished finalizing it and emailing the details to my family, than it suddenly dawned on me – those were not the weeks I had planned to visit! I planned to go a week earlier than what I booked. My stomach dropped. Should I pay the penalty and change the booking now while seats were still available, or should I just go when I booked? My first response was to change them in a panic. But then it dawned – I can trust that for whatever reasons, those are the perfect weeks for me to be there. If a whisper of a thought would have nudged me to take a second look at the calendar and review the dates, I’m sure I would have booked a week earlier. But there was no whisper, only certainty in what I was doing. So I’m going when I booked, and it may be obvious why I’m there when I’m there. Or maybe not… Since we cannot know what might have happened if we made other choices, we so often don’t know, and will never know.

    • Allison

      Ooooooo! That little ‘mix-up’ of yours would be a good start to a movie!

  • SarahWT

    Gosh… What a heart-tuggingly beautiful passage. I keep coming back to it!

  • octavia

    If you substituted” knowledge” for “truth” in the passage quoted by
    VetChangesWorld, it reads just as well and remains ever so applicable and authentic