There was a great Scotch writer and historian in the nineteenth century named Thomas Carlyle. He married a woman, who’d worked as his secretary named Jane Welsh. But Carlyle was dedicated to his writing so he didn’t spend much time with her. He just mostly wrote.
At one point she became ill and then it turned out that her illness was terminal. But Carlyle was too busy writing and he didn’t have much time for her. Then Jane died. When Jane died they carried her to the cemetery for the service in the pouring rain. Following the funeral, Carlyle went back to his home. He went up the stairs to Jane’s room and sat down in the chair next to her bed.
He sat there thinking about how little time he had spent with her and wishing so much that he had a chance to do it differently. If only. Noticing her diary on the table beside the bed, he picked it up and began to read in it. Suddenly he was shocked. There on one page she had written a single line. This is what she wrote: “Yesterday he spent an hour with me, and it was like heaven. I love him so.” Something dawned on Carlyle that he had not noticed before. He had been too busy to notice that he had meant so much to her.
He thought of all the times he had gone about his work without thinking or noticing her. He turned a page in the diary and there he read some words that broke his heart. This is what she wrote: “I listened all day to hear his steps in the hall, but now it is late and I guess he won’t come today.”
Carlyle read a little more and then he threw the book aside. He ran out of the house. Some of his friends found him at the grave. His face was buried in the mud. His eyes red from weeping, tears rolling down his cheeks. Over and over again he kept repeating the same phrase: “If only I had known. If only I had known. If only...”
But, it was too late. After Jane’s death, Carlyle made little attempt to write again. He lived another fifteen years, weary, bored and a partial recluse.
I tell you friends that the two saddest words in the English language are “if only.” That is because they indicate that there was a possibility to avoid the tragedy.
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