Throughout our lives there are roads not taken. What might have happened, who might we have become, are all fascinating questions for which we will never know the answers. Suppose we had gone to a different college, married a different spouse, taken a different first job, followed a different career path, how would our lives have played out? Now most people we have asked have said they would change little or nothing in their lives if they had a do-over, that they had few regrets. But suppose the circumstances had changed, that when we were presented with a choice, we had taken the other road. It can be fun to speculate.
So, to paraphrase Yogi Berra’s famous quote, what are some of those other forks in the road?
The first such choice that comes to mind for me is the decision my husband and I made to return to the East Coast. He was ending his stint in the Air Force in Texas, and he had gotten a job offer from the medical center at The University of Oklahoma. We went to look, my husband and I and our then two children. The people were gracious, welcoming and encouraging. The medical school had a position open in the ophthalmology department, and he was thought to be the right fit after his considerable experience taking care of airmen and their families. The school made him what sounded to us, after the military, like a terrific offer. He toured the hospital, we were shown nice areas of Oklahoma City in which we might live, we were taken to dinner at a country club and we met several other young families who were happily settled there. At the end of a lovely weekend, we turned to each other and said “no.”
We were sure that we wanted to settle in San Diego, California. We had been out to the West Coast during my husband’s vacation weeks, and we loved the area — La Jolla in particular. The city was set in the hills, curved around the harbor, offered a fine academic and cultural existence and had the best climate in the United States. My husband hated the cold weather and thought he had found Shangri-la. I wasn’t so sure about the occasional earthquake tremors that rattled the dishes in the cabinet where we stayed, but I lusted for the ocean after two years in northern Texas. A decision was made: We would move there as soon as he was discharged. He even found a possible associate in a growing practice and we checked out a couple of places to live.
OK, you might ask, how did we wind up on the North Shore of Long Island?
The answer: family. Our children were my parents’ only grandchildren, my parents were our children’s only grandparents, and in those days — the late 1960s — flying between coasts was a big deal involving many hours and changes of planes. And, anyway, my father hated to fly. Additionally my parents were tied to their business in New York City with no plans to retire. On the other side, my husband’s three siblings and their families, along with aunts and cousins, were all in the New York area.
We reluctantly yielded to the pull of family and, in a manner of speaking, we left our hearts in San Diego and came east. We then had to decide where in the vicinity of New York we would stay. The choice was between two medical centers that were on the drawing board: Valhalla, in Westchester, and Stony Brook. So how did we wind up here? That is a story for another column.
Would we be different had we settled in La Jolla? Would our children be different? Ironically one of my sons felt the siren song of that beautiful coastal city of San Diego and almost moved there. But the proximity to family, among other considerations, prevailed. Had we taken the other road, we would be the same people with the same values, I trust, but the details of our lives? We will never know.