There is a country song called, “If I Had Only Known,” in which a young woman laments actions not taken and words not spoken. Now, after her lover has slipped away forever, she is left with nothing but missed opportunities, could have beens instead of cherished memories, regrets instead of remembrances. Listening to this song the other night, I found myself haunted by one line - “oh, the love I would have shown, if I had only known.” What struck me was the fact that I do know. We all know. People come to and go from this world seemingly at random, our days numbered and checked off on some invisible calendar, with the balance unknown to any of us.
Knowing this, though, why do put off so much good until tomorrow, a tomorrow that may never come? Why do we allow ourselves to say things like “I should call Jerry this week and see how he is doing”? Why do we put off until sometime next week that thank you card we meant to mail last week? Most importantly, why don’t we say the things we feel to the people we care most about?
Anyone who knows me understands that I think my grandparents walk on water. They are to me the only proof I have that there might exist a higher power, for I have no other explanation of how I was blessed with them. And yet, I don’t know when I last said this directly to them. Oh sure, I have told everyone else, but have I told them? No, not recently. And they are the ones who should hear it first and hear it often.
Brenda, for more than half of my life you have been my confidant, my friend, my love. From a long-haired goofy little kid to the man I am today, you have been by my side through it all. Our friendship has survived college, marriage, divorce, the Marine Corps, the Go-Go’s breakup, the Reagan years, and too many years of too many miles. I love you.
Lisa and Craig, the first people who ever heard a very scared seventeen-year-old admit he was gay. So scared, in fact, that the words wouldn’t come out, resulting in an almost comedic game of twenty questions. It’s funny now, but at the time just saying the word was more than I could do. Your outstretched hands pulled me to safety more times than you know.
Christopher, who took an out of control young man and walked with him through what seemed an eternity of pain. Nights together in a land where we didn’t even speak the language, yet having you with me made me feel like I belonged. I never had a best friend before you, and I will never have another one like you.
Mike, a man of few expressions and fewer words, who still spent endless nights debating with me everything from Hendrix remakes (unnecessary) to the existence of God (probably necessary). When you told me you loved me, I knew it was true. Calling you my friend made me smile, and hearing you call me your friend made me cry.
Jerry and Tim, the buddies I always wanted, but didn’t know how to treat. In my confusion, I ended up taking you for granted, and I’ll spend the rest of my life wishing our days together had been more appreciated. I promise I will not make that same mistake with our future days.
Greg, never more than a thought away, yet in six years never closer than a thousand miles. I miss you, old friend. I thought you were what I wanted to be, but in truth you were what I needed to be near. Now we know.
Amanda, a better friend to me than I was to myself. If our relationship was summed up in a day, the Queen Mary bore witness to it. Never has so much been said without a single word. I hear your laugh when I laugh, and I see your smile when I look at new friends.
D, too long gone from a world not deserving of you. Did you know how much I respected you? The irony of watching Longtime Companion with you is still too much to think about without tears. God, I miss you so much it hurts. The All-American smile, now mine to see only in a memory.
Thank you, faithful Southern Forum readers, for indulging me this space, as I say in writing what has been too long unspoken. Perhaps these words will inspire a note of your own to someone else, a note of apology or forgiveness, a card of love or words of solace. Whatever is inside of you, open your heart and your mind and allow someone that warm feeling that comes with a compliment or a thank-you. Do not wait until all you can say is “if I had only known.”
(Originally presented in Southern Forum, August 1994)