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If… It’s one of the smallest words in the world, but Webster’s Dictionary has nearly a full page of descriptions and definitions on it. It’s one of the tiniest words in the dictionary, yet it carries some of the absolute largest implications. It’s called a “conditional clause,” and indeed it is. Two simple letters encompass the future and the past, they recall our failures and they remind us of how slim the odds were on our greatest successes. I’m reminded of a few lines in the poem by the poet, Walter D. Wintle, that define the significance of “if”:

“If you think you are beaten, you are;
If you think you dare not, you don’t.
If you’d like to win, but think you can’t
It’s almost a cinch you won’t.

If: It encompasses longing, and desire, but just as much it involves the bitterness of things and people we should just as well have left alone. Those two letters remind us of the chances we have taken and they help us recall how fine the line is between victory and defeat.

Science and fiction often begin with if. “What if” represents mankind’s greatest accomplishments. “What if man could build flying machines?” “What if we could put a man on the moon?”

“If you would become my wife,” represents the glory of speculation. And, “If I could just make you understand,” represents some of the saddest moments in any relationship.

I’ve always liked the poem by Rudyard Kipling called “IF.” It was written for his son, but it encompasses all people in all walks of life. I will leave you with a few lines that well establish the value of “if.”

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;

If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster 

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!