&: If Only... Next Time...

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lizwool
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&: If Only... Next Time...

Today's Inspirational Story

Two Words That Change Everything

Sure, you've got regrets. But you can move on if you apply this magic phrase.
By Arthur Gordon

Nothing in life is more exciting and rewarding than the sudden flash of insight that leaves you a changed person, not only changed but changed for the better. Such moments are rare, certainly, but they come to all of us. Sometimes from a book, a sermon, a line of poetry. Sometimes from a friend.

That wintry afternoon in Manhattan, waiting in the little French restaurant, I was feeling frustrated and depressed. Because of several miscalculations on my part, a project of considerable importance in my life had fallen through. Even the prospect of seeing a dear friend (the Old Man, as I privately and affectionately thought of him) failed to cheer me as it usually did. I sat there frowning at the checkered tablecloth, chewing the bitter cud of hindsight.

He came across the street, finally, muffled in his ancient overcoat, shapeless felt hat pulled down over his bald head, looking more like an energetic gnome than an eminent psychiatrist. His offices were nearby; I knew he had just left his last patient of the day. He was close to eighty but he still carried a full caseload, still acted as director of a large foundation, still loved to escape to the golf course whenever he could.

By the time he came over and sat beside me, the waiter had brought his invariable bottle of ale. I had not seen him for several months, but he seemed as indestructible as ever. "Well, young man," he said without preliminary, "what's troubling you?"

I had long since ceased to be surprised at his perceptiveness. So I proceeded to tell him, at some length, just what was bothering me. With a kind of melancholy pride, I tried to be very honest. I blamed no one else for my disappointment, only myself. I analyzed the whole thing, all the bad judgments, the false moves. I went on for perhaps fifteen minutes, while the Old Man sipped his ale in silence.

When I finished, he put down his glass. "Come on," he said. "Let's go back to my office."

"Your office? Did you forget something?'

"No," he said mildly. "I want your reaction to something. That's all."

A chill rain was beginning to fall outside, but his office was warm and comfortable and familiar; book-lined walls, long leather couch, signed photograph of Sigmund Freud, tape recorder by the window. His secretary had gone home. We were alone.

The Old Man took a tape from a flat cardboard box and fitted it into the machine. "On this tape," he said, "are three short recordings made by three persons who came to me for help. They are not identified, of course. I want you to listen to the recordings and see if you can pick out the two-word phrase that is the common denominator in all three cases." He smiled. "Don't look so puzzled. I have my reasons."

What the owners of the voices on the tape had in common, it seemed to me, was unhappiness. The man who spoke first evidently had suffered some kind of business loss or failure; he berated himself for not having worked harder, for not having looked ahead. The woman who spoke next had never married because of a sense of obligation to her widowed mother; she recalled bitterly all the marital chances she had let go by. The third voice belonged to a mother whose teenage son was in trouble with the police; she blamed herself endlessly.

The Old Man switched off the machine and leaned back in his chair. "Six times in those recordings a phrase is used that's full of a subtle poison. Did you spot it? No? Well, perhaps that's because you used it three times yourself down in the restaurant a little while ago." He picked up the box that had held the tape and tossed it over to me. "There they are, right on the label. The two saddest words in any language."

I looked down. Printed neatly in red ink were the words: IF ONLY.

"You'd be amazed," said the Old Man, "If you knew how many thousands of times I've sat in this chair and listened to woeful sentences beginning with those two words. "If only," they say to me, "I had done it differently" or not done it at all. If only I hadn't lost my temper, said that cruel thing, made that dishonest move, told that foolish lie. If only I had been wiser, or more unselfish, or more self-controlled." They go on and on until I stop them. Sometimes I make them listen to the recordings you just heard. "If only," I say to them, "you'd stop saying if only, we might begin to get somewhere!"

The Old Man stretched out his legs. "The trouble with if only," he said, "is that it doesn't change anything. It keeps the person facing the wrong wayaEU"backward instead of forward. It wastes time. In the end, if you let it become a habit, it can become a real roadblockaEU"an excuse for not trying anymore.

Now take your own case: Your plans didn't work out. Why? Because you made certain mistakes. Well, that's all right: Everyone makes mistakes. Mistakes are what we learn from. But when you were telling me about them, lamenting this, regretting that, you weren't really learning from them."

"How do you know?" I said, a bit defensively.

"Because,"said the Old Man, "you never got out of the past tense. Not once did you mention the future. And in a way, be honest, now, you were enjoying it. There's a perverse streak in all of us that makes us like to hash over old mistakes. After all, when you relate the story of some disaster or disappointment that has happened to you, you're still the chief character, still in the center of the stage."

I shook my head ruefully. "Well, what's the remedy?"

"Shift the focus," said the Old Man promptly. "Change the key words and substitute a phrase that supplies lift instead of creating drag."

"Do you have such a phrase to recommend?"

"Certainly. Strike out the words "if only", substitute the phrase NEXT TIME."

"NEXT TIME?"

"That's right. I've seen it work minor miracles right here in this room. As long as a patient keeps saying if only to me, he's in trouble. But when he looks me in the eye and says next time, I know he's on his way to overcoming his problem. It means he has decided to apply the lessons he has learned from his experience, however grim or painful it may have been. It means he's going to push aside the roadblock of regret, move forward, take action, resume living. Try it yourself. You'll see."

My old friend stopped speaking. Outside, I could hear the rain whispering against the windowpane. I tried sliding one phrase out of my mind and replacing it with the other. It was fanciful, of course, but I could hear the new words lock into place with an audible click.

"One last thing," the Old Man said. "Apply this little trick to things that can still be remedied." From the bookcase behind him, he pulled out something that looked like a diary. "Here's a journal kept a generation ago by a woman who was a schoolteacher in my hometown. Her husband was a kind of amiable ne'er-do-well, charming but totally inadequate as a provider. This woman had to raise the children, pay the bills, keep the family together. Her diary is full of angry references to Jonathan's weaknesses, Jonathan's shortcomings, Jonathan's inadequacies.

"Then Jonathan died, and all the entries ceased except for one, years later. Here it is: Today I was made superintendent of schools, and I suppose I should be very proud. But if I knew that Jonathan was out there somewhere beyond the stars, and if I knew how to manage it, I would go to him tonight."

The Old Man closed the book gently. "You see? What she's saying is, if only; if only I had accepted him, faults and all; if only I had loved him while I could." He put the book back on the shelf. "That's when those sad words are the saddest of all: when it's too late to retrieve anything."

He stood up a bit stiffly. "Well, class dismissed. It has been good to see you, young man. Always is. Now, if you will help me find a taxi, I probably should be getting on home."

We came out of the building into the rainy night. I spotted a cruising cab and ran toward it, but another pedestrian was quicker.

"My, my," said the Old Man slyly. "If only we had come down ten seconds sooner, we'd have caught that cab, wouldn't we?"

I laughed and picked up the cue. "Next time I'll run faster."

"That's it," cried the Old Man, puffing his absurd hat down around his ears. "That's it exactly!"

Another taxi slowed. I opened the door for him. He smiled and waved as it moved away. I never saw him again. A month later, he died of a sudden heart attack, in full stride, so to speak.

More than a year has passed since that rainy afternoon in Manhattan. But to this day, whenever I find myself thinking if only, I change it to next time. Then I wait for that almost-perceptible mental click. And when I hear it, I think of the Old Man.

A small fragment of immortality, to be sure. But it's the kind he would have wanted.

http://www.beliefnet.com/date=11-11-2006

Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching.
Thomas Jefferson

Liz Woolley

J. DOe
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Re: Today's Inspirational Story

I have read through and found many of the topics in this Daily Readings message board to be useful and comforting to read. Actually, I highly recommend that anybody who has cravings considers reading these topics themselves. However, among all of the topics that I have read so far, I especially enjoyed this one.A Please note that if you have not read the original post, the length of it is not quite as daunting as it may appear.A For some reason, portions of the story are repeated multiple times, with quite a bit of it showing 3 times.A Just bypass the repeated parts and you will find that the story is not quite so long as it looks.A However, for anybody who does not want to read it (but, if you do, then please do so now before reading any further here), in a nutshell it says that you should replace the 2 words "What If" with "Next Time".A That might seem to be a relatively minor point, but it is very important, at least to me.A It helped me to change my focus somewhat from lamenting the past, which I have no control over and cannot change, to thinking about my future, which I have a lot of control over and which I can most definitely change.A In fact, this post is one of the things that I believe has finally helped me to stay "clean" now for several weeks, approaching one month of time.

- John O.

[em]Carpe Diem![/em] (Seize the Day!)

lizwool
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Re: Today's Inspirational Story

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I corrected the reading, so it is not repeating itself. NEXT TIME! Remember (from our Meeting Reading)
"We are not saints. The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principles we have set down are guides to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection." Liz

Liz Woolley

BigH501
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Re: Today's Inspirational Story

[size=14] aEU~If only,aEU(tm) I say to them, aEU~youaEU(tm)d stop saying if only, we might begin to get somewhere! ****! quite a little flash of insight here !!! I really need to work on my next times instead of lamenting my "if onlys" [/size]

" ... don't question it just go" "... where the body goes the mind will follow"
.
Borrowed from "Desire to Stop"

EHAZE
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Re: Today's Inspirational Story

I found myself wanting to skip the reading to find out what the words were. I am so glad that I took time to read this all the way through.
I have been sadden by some post here, but this is the first that has brought a tear to my eye. Thank you for sharing this and allowing me to become stronger. This story holds a key that will open some doors for my wife and I. Thank you very much. Jimi

lauramc
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Re: Today's Inspirational Story

Some things that I read are so simple and yet so profound and are proof positive to me that I have a Higher Power who works through all of you. This post shook me to the very core of my soul and brought tears streaming down my face like Jimi. I struggle with the backwards mentality. I have all of my life. Even in 12-step I struggle with it. Somehow, somewhere in my life I picked up the message that suffering was "noble" and right and good. If you weren't suffering then you must be a very bad, selfish person. Later, I had a sponsor who explained to me that this was really negative self-centeredness. Usually the stories went like this: "if only i was able to control this or that or this person or that person" it would have gone right. I truly believed (and sometimes still do) that I had/have this invisible power to make everything go my way and to make everyone's life and actions turn out the way I think it should. And yet...... Life never works that way. The rest of the time I was doing the old "don't-you-see-me-suffering-aren't-i-a-great-person?" trick. Like the man in the story said, it's fun and it made me the center of attention. Today, I can make the choice to see today and no other. To look to the past as a yesterday that I cannot change and plan for the future without living in it. (Yeah, ok, that's pretty much the Serenity Prayer). Thanks Liz, for sharing that very beautiful and poignant story.

shiva
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Re: Today's Inspirational Story
Quote:

Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching.
Thomas Jefferson

*jokingly* There are people who do this, itA's called narcistic personality disorder ;) :D Good story... ... there are books that deal with conjuring up this kind of "Magic"... http://www.amazon.com/Structure-Magic-About-Language-Therapy/dp/0831400447/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/105-5923702-6318844?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1187942078&sr=8-1

lauramc
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Re: Today's Inspirational Story

*

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next time next time ill

next time next time ill forgive myself for being human next time ill laugh more next time ill dance even though i only know the electric slide next time ill tell my 87 year old mother she is beautiful next time ill stand in the summer rain and see if a rainbow shows itself next time ill tell the person who tells me what they think i should do that i am perfectly capable of thinking for myself. next time i smile at what my children say ill remind myself im a pretty darn good mom next time my husband hugs me i wont let go first. next time i worry ill remind myself life is too short thank u for a wonderful story. really hit me. dawn

Take the first step in faith. You donaEU(tm)t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.
~Bob Newhart
The minute you alter your perception of yourself and your future, both you and your future begin to change. ~Marilee Zdenek

BigH501
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  This has to be one of my

This has to be one of my favorite stories. I think this helped me more than any other single post for my recovery.

" ... don't question it just go" "... where the body goes the mind will follow"
.
Borrowed from "Desire to Stop"

Kincaid
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Thanks Big for bringing it

Thanks Big for bringing it back to the present - I really enjoyed reading it. I hope it can help me & many others today.

BigH501
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  *bump* Still one of my

*bump*

Still one of my favoirtes

" ... don't question it just go" "... where the body goes the mind will follow"
.
Borrowed from "Desire to Stop"

Turandot
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This is a wonderful

This is a wonderful story...Thanks for sharing...Hoping to have many Next Times and to remember this.

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