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What Could Have Been

“A very Merry Christmas, And a happy new year, Let’s hope it’s a good one, Without any fear, War is over, if you want it, War is over now” John Winston Lennon / Yoko Ono

Whenever somebody dies young and tragically we think about what could have been. 

empty grave photoJohn Lennon, Tupac Shakur, Jimi Hendrix, the list of musical superstars dying prematurely is long. There are other political martyrs as well, John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton. I think you could think of dozens of others to put on this list. What would have happened if the visionaries had lived to influence and shape the world we live in.

Botham Jean is an obscure name and most likely if he had lived to fulfill his years he would never have found any measure of fame. But his name has been thrust in the headlines because he was a young man gunned down by a police officer in his own apartment. I think the grieving family hurts thinking of what could have been. How successful this fine young man could have been. That he could have married and have had children.

Personally, with my mental illness, I constantly wish that I never became ill. That I could have followed my dreams and not have been bogged down in the sad routine of being put into psychiatric hospitals time after time. Never mind the fact that the trauma from the whole episode permanently altered me. If I never had gotten mentally ill where would I be now?

Such thoughts are very dangerous thoughts. I do not believe that everything happens for a purpose. That would mean that each and every move we make is orchestrated by God and we are nothing more than puppets on a string. No, I firmly believe that man has a say in his life and that he has free will to make decisions. But I firmly do believe that certain things are ordained by God. That His hand reaches out from time to time guiding us. I can see in my life that if some trivial event did not occur than some profound event would not have happened.

So when faced with the tragic thought of ‘what could have been’ we must try to find some purpose. That we who are left to carry on must find the meaning and act positively so that the loss will not be in vain. That is the whole concept of martyrdom. That the one who was sacrificed, the one’s whose flame was quenched by his inspiration ignites a thousand more flames just as vibrant.

Another important aspect is that dark times build and shape the character that we are. If I had never suffered through my mental illness would I be the person that I am today? I must clearly answer unequivocally no. I know that my mental illness has without a doubt humbled me and made me more sensitive to the needs of others. There are certain lessons in life that can only be learned through suffering.

My last point is that in life events are intertwined and it is impossible to simply isolate one thing without affecting the whole.  I had a friend who is a professional musician. He had done very well for himself but he did not reach the level of stardom. He pondered what would have happened if he went to college for music instead of business. When he realized that if he took such a course that he never would have met his wife. So when faced with tragedy how do we know that we would be better off if the tragedy had not occurred. John Kennedy’s reputation has been mythologized but he did some terrible things as president. He had gotten us into the Vietnam War and there was the whole fiasco of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Who knows what would have happened in John Kennedy lived.

It is a wicked thing to lie on one’s bed late at night or early in the morning and wonder what would have happened if some tragic event never occurred. It is in our dark hours that we learn to appreciate the light. It is in our weakness that we learn the true nature of strength. It is in our sorrow that we find the blessing of joy.

I look at the world and weep knowing what could have been. But I go on trying to achieve the dream of a better tomorrow as anything less would mock the sacrifice of those who gave so much.

Please check out my book “Polishing The Fragments.” What does one do when God smashes their life? They polish the fragments.

Photos by dok1,









Let It Not Be In Vain (In Memory Of Brother Botham Jean)

By John Kaniecki

With saddest sorrow
I must say
That the news became real today
The statistic on the chart
Was a piece of my heart
My brother Botham Jean

I had done no wrong
Committed no crime
I was in my own home
Passing time
When I was gunned down
To their shame
They slander my name
Trying to cast the blame
That I should take the fall
I who did no wrong at all

Jesus says ‘vengeance is mine’
I believe in the divine
But this is a world of laws
And justice is my cause
Shall the system fail?
Or will righteousness prevail?
There is nothing more that I can do
My fate is up to you
For if my murderer goes free
The killer who was at fault
The killings they will not halt
Do more than feel your pain
My death, my life
Let it not be in vain

“Whatever ye have done to the least of them”
“So have ye done unto me”
For all around planet Earth
To each child given birth
They deserve compassion and love
That is pleasing to God above
Endless war, colonial oppression
Listen to the mighty lesson
There is no neutral ground
Where are you found?
Are you a friend to the poor?
Or a wicked man lusting for more?
This genocide by the police
This constant lynching it must cease

To be gunned down in your own home it is insane
Let it not be in vain
May my death be a spark
To ignite a flame in this world so dark
And to Almighty God we shall turn
And the lessons of Love learn
No matter rich or poor
Black, yellow, red or white
We are equal in God’s sight
Even to those who wear the blue
The law applies to you
From the grave I cannot personally explain
My death it is full of sorrow
I have not one more tomorrow
Let it not be in vain

What Could Have Been

John Kaniecki

John Kaniecki is a full-time caregiver for his wife Sylvia. He is a published writer and works with the Church of Christ. John has lived with bipolar for over thirty years and has been hospitalized nine times, three of which were committed. John has chronicled his life story in his memoirs "More Than The Madness". Also of note is John's book of poetry "Murmurings Of A Mad Man" which are poems written about being committed in Graystone Psychiatric Hospital. John believes in the power of words to change the world for the better. His website can be seen here. His books can be seen on Amazon. You can visit his personal blog "Turn A Page Or Two" here.

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APA Reference
Kaniecki, J. (2018). What Could Have Been. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 17 Sep 2018
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