“Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’”
So wrote John Greenleaf Whittier in this well-known quotation from his 1856 poem entitled “Maud Muller.”
But what if ‘what might have been’ had become ‘what is’?
Especially if ‘what is’ brings deep regrets and remorse for a never-to-be-realized return to what should have been?
Maud Muller is a beautiful maid who, “one day, while harvesting hay, meets a judge from the local town. Each is smitten with the other. The judge thinks that he would like to be a local farmer married to Maud, while she thinks that she would like to be the wealthy judge’s wife.
“Neither voices these thoughts, however, and both the judge and the maiden move on. The judge marries a woman of wealth whose love for him is based on his riches. Maud Muller marries a young uneducated farmer. Throughout the rest of their lives, each remembers the day of their meeting and remorsefully reflects on what might have been.”
But what if the two had married – the maid and the judge?
“Whittier’s younger contemporary Bret Harte wrote a short parody and sequel to the poem entitled ‘Mrs. Judge Jenkins’, which mocks Whittier’s conclusion by having Maud marry the Judge after all, with far more disastrous results: Maud’s relatives get drunk in the wedding, while Maud herself grows ‘broad and red and stout’ after giving birth to twins. Both eventually come to regret the marriage: Maud because she finds the Judge’s emphasis on knowledge boring, while the Judge bemoans Maud’s lack of refinement and social grace.”
In Harte’s account, what might have been becomes what is and those involved discover too late the all-important value of knowing – and being – who we are, and that where we are may very well prove to be exactly what was needed for a time such as this.
If only there had been someone, anyone, who could have proved steady, patiently – as would a bricklayer – build upon the foundation a wall of protection, of safety, of security around his family, his community, his city, his country; and during construction stand in the gap alert, aware, attuned to those who would tear down and destroy and wreak havoc.
Had only he been where he should have been – faithful and responsible and needed – a husband, a dad, a soldier, an example.
The One Year Bible reading for today, November 11, 2018, Ezekiel 22:30 says sadly of such husbands and fathers, warriors and leaders who should have built such a wall, who should have stood in the gap that: ‘there was none.’
But my father was.
And throughout the rest of my life, I and my family, children and grandchildren, will be forever thankful for the men and women who, like my father and mother, were not only who they were but were where they were at the time they were needed most.