Have you ever longed to go back in time and change just one choice so a life event would turn out differently, or a relationship could be preserved or never started? I have certainly had wistful thoughts along those lines. No, I lie. I do still have wistful thoughts like that from time to time. I went hiking a couple of weeks ago with some of my family. My sister had spent three summers working at a camp in the area, and took the lead. We headed toward that camp, then down a dirt road toward the trail head. We passed a small stream flowing down the mountain and she remarked that the old trail went up the stream, but people kept littering in the (watershed) stream, so the trail was moved, and the old trail blocked off. A little further down the road, and she indicated for us to turn off the road and head up the hill. In the winter, this hill is part of a ski trail; in summer, it is covered with wildflowers. My sister pointed them out, acting the part of trail guide. Up the hill we continued, until we reached a spot where there was a spur of trail running to the stream. My sister was wishing we could go up the old trail, so I told the others I was going to explore the branch, no one had to follow, and I would come back and let them know what I found. My sister said to make sure it went up and not over, because over would lead into the camp.
The branch lead me across the stream. A short distance further I found another spur that lead up the hill. I took it a short distance to see where it led, then returned and informed the others of what I had found. We headed that way. The spur going up took me back across the stream not far from where I initially crossed. I waited there to help my nieces and nephews find the best path across if needed. While we were crossing, my sister had gone a bit further from the spur and found yet another path that led up. She instructed that we needed to go up that way, so we all headed over.
We meandered with the trail up the mountain, not very close to the stream, but never far from it. Eventually, I grew restless and went ahead of the main group while they rested. I passed a couple taking a break on the side of the trail and came to a boulder field. The bottom of the boulder field was, but for the boulders, fairly flat; the top was nearly vertical, with a twenty or thirty foot cliff on the right half. The stream was not visible below the boulders. The couple caught up, and we briefly discussed whether the trail went across the boulder field or not: the dirt trail ended at the boulders, so we decided it did. I headed back to my family, and lead them toward the boulder field.
As I was about to start the boulder scramble, my sister hollered that that was the wrong way. My sister gave reasons why it was the wrong way. Those who had followed me turned around, and I followed. As we headed the way my sister directed, I looked ahead, and the angle my neck and eyes had to assume to do so caused me to exclaim to myself, “That’s way too steep. I don’t want to go up that!” I said to my sister, “Are you sure we can’t just go across the boulders?” She gave reasons, which I doubted. I said, “I’m calling B.S.” and headed back to the boulders. Perhaps I should have given my reasoning out loud as well, beyond just saying that the boulders would be easier. No one followed me; some tried to placate me to come back, as if I was just being stubborn now, in a “don’t tell him he can’t do something, because then he has to prove he can” way.
Still no one followed. I easily picked my way across the boulders, and found the trail on the other side. I called out to my family to indicate I had found the trail, but those that responded said they couldn’t come that way. Softly to myself I said, “All right, whatever,” and proceeded up the boulders on the outside of the left side, continuing along the easiest inclines. Near the top I abandoned the boulders in favor of a short, slightly steep animal trail that took me up above the boulders. At this point I found the real trail, the one all the normal people were using. I was out of sight of my family, and with a lot of granite between us, I figured hollering would do little good.
Heading along the real trail, I came upon a sign indicating our destination was a half-mile away. I continued in that direction, passing a few spurs here and there. At one spur, I felt I should follow it and see if I could find my family. Second-guessing such feelings has become second nature: I chose to first see if they had made it up before me. Almost at the lake to which we were hiking (which has a concrete dam on the trail end of it), I decided there was no way they had made it up before me. I headed back along one of the spurs, which took me up a crag of rock and back down to the main path. From above, heading to the main path, I observed people headed to the lake. People who had clearly taken the wide, easy path. Back on that path, I looked both directions, then headed toward the sign I had seen earlier. Then I remembered that impression again, and turned back toward the lake. I was almost at that same spur, and this time headed up it. Listening to my feelings, I left the trail at the point that felt right. To my right was the cliff I had seen from below at the boulder field. I continued to the edge, toward the left, and there saw my family, climbing up an incline steeper than what I had seen below that brought me to where I was.
I called out to them and headed down. They were relieved to see me. Some of the younger ones had broken out in tears multiple times while trying to get up the side of the mountain. I had some licorice and salt-water taffy one of my other sisters had been carrying, but I had taken off her hands to make her load lighter.
I gave some of the licorice to my niece and nephew who were having the hardest time emotionally, along with a reassuring embrace. I helped them pick their way up the rest of the way, having been able to see the best path from above. We made it to the real trail, and proceeded to the lake. My family described their ordeal, saying they had been clinging to roots to climb up, and one of my brothers-in-law had said, “Put your hands where ever you need to to help my wife up,” to my other brother-in-law as they had been pushing each other up from behind. One observed that when he wasn’t swearing he was praying, and that if anyone had fallen he was prepared to jump down after them to rescue them. One of my other sisters, who had back surgery a year ago, said she kept saying, “You’ve gotta be kidding me,” and “I can’t go anymore, I’m going to wait here until you guys come back.” She was informed that they weren’t going to come back that way, as it would be more dangerous to go down than up.
We rested at the lake, eating snacks and hydrating. I skipped a few rocks, but there weren’t many to be found. On the way back, we took the real trail. As I passed the spur where I had gone off to find my family, I reflected on my experience, playing the part of rescuer (not that they couldn’t have made it without me, but that I made it easier for them to continue). As I came down the craggy rocks to where they had been struggling upward, it was clear to me that the path I had chosen was much easier. I thought of my choice as the right choice to make given the options of going across the boulder field and going up the steep slope. Then I thought about how absurd it would have been to not help them up and instead say, “Go back down and come up the way I came up.” As mentioned earlier, going back down that way would have been harder than going up. The only way going back down would have been acceptable is if it was truly impossible for them to get up the way they were coming. Nor would it have been appropriate, if I had the metaphysical ability or technology to send them or all of us back in time to the point where we took separate paths. If we were able to retain our memories, they would resent the fact that all that effort had been in vain and they would have to do it over again, even if it would be easier this time. If we were not able to retain our memories, they likely would make the same choice they did before; any lessons they learned or might have learned from the experience would have been lost.
When the Redeemer applies his atoning blood to our lives, whether to rescue us from our sins or transgressions, or just poor choices; or to rescue us from the actions of others that have affected us negatively, He does not tell us, “Go back down the way you came, then choose the path you should have taken.” He does not transport us back to the point in time where we could change the situation, undo the thought, take back the unkind word, leave a minute earlier or later, talk to a guy you are in love with but confused by instead of trying to get him to talk to you by practicing the art of the silent treatment, get lost in the eyes of a beautiful woman a second longer or three seconds less, choose to walk away instead of fighting. He does not allow us our wistful “Oh, if only I could change just that one thing.” Instead, in His condescension, filled with love for us, He heals our broken hearts, wipes away our tears, and with the commanding view of the possible paths forward, He shows us the best way for us to proceed forward. He does not rob us of the experiences we gained, of the lessons we have or should be learning. He brings us back to the path we need to be on, and where we have been injured, He compensates us for our losses. Where we have injured, He makes amends where we are unable to, and assists us to make amends where we can.
So, though I may wish sometimes to change my personal history, I cannot. I can accept the help offered to me by my Savior through His atonement, the comfort and guidance of his Holy Spirit to take the best way forward. And therein lies my hope: through His atonement, overcoming all my sins, and all the wrongs others have committed against me, choosing the best way forward from where I am now.