Sitting under a deck umbrella in the suffocating heat that has turned the Midwest into a very slow-moving rotisserie can lead a middle-aged man to reflect on the “what ifs” of life.

Normally, such thoughts run to the road not taken, the career path spurned, the secret crush never acted upon. Maybe it’s the sun, or maybe it is the sight of grown men and women willing to risk bringing down the U.S. economy, and perhaps the world economy as well, in order to score political points, but the heat is making me ask some deeper questions. For example:

What if…

… J.K. Rowling had missed that train and never saw the boy who looked like Harry Potter and therefore never launched the most lucrative writing career of all time?

… the Republican Party, when it had control of the House, the Senate and the White House for six years, had been half as determined on behalf of the unborn as it now appears to be on avoiding tax increases?

… the Democratic Party, when it had control of the House, the Senate and the White House for two years, had actually practiced the bipartisanship it now claims it seeks?

… Rupert Murdoch had used his media influence and his vast fortune to inform and inspire rather than titillate and denigrate?

… one supervisor at Murdoch’s News of the World had said, “Even if we can do it, it wouldn’t be right.”

… Duchess Kate looked ordinary and Susan Boyle looked like Duchess Kate?

… a majority of Americans actually voted rather than simply complained year after year?

… every parish in the United States started study groups on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and Catholic adults actually attended them?

... all parents who sent their kids to parish education classes took them to Sunday Mass as well?

… the NFL owners and players agreed to tithe 10 percent of their obscene fortunes every year to help inner-city schools develop first-class academic programs rather than being little sports mills?

… Catholics everywhere resolved this Advent, with the unveiling of the new translation of the Roman Missal, to more deeply study about and appreciate the Mass?

… Catholics everywhere decided that they would learn what “consubstantial” means?

… springs and falls were longer and winters and summers were shorter?

… temptation was not so darn attractive and virtue was not so hard to convince ourselves it is more so?

… we actually prayed for each person we were about to criticize with relish?

… we actually listened twice as much as we spoke, since we do indeed have two ears and only one mouth?

… SNAP actually complimented the Church for doing something right, instead of predictably seeking to grab headlines with just as predictable complaints about how nothing really has changed, despite the fact that a great deal has?

… every Irish bishop resigned and the Church was given the chance for a complete do-over?

… it didn’t take until they themselves became parents that children actually appreciated all that their own parents had done for them?

… the whole world decided for 24 hours that there really isn’t anything worth saying in only 140 characters?

… everyone decided that instead of “friending” people, they would actually go outside and be someone’s friend?

… pop singers who got beat up by their boyfriends would not sing songs extolling the virtues of sadomasochism and the excitement of whips and chains?

Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.