Commentary  Sailing through life on a country song’s ifs

If I had a boat, I’d go out on the ocean, and if I had a pony, I’d ride him on my boat…

For most of us, it takes years to figure out how exactly to live our lives. Some ponder the written words of those who came before, some observe the ways of people next to them and follow suit, others climb high mountains and find meaning in places with no words or people. Now you could do any of these things, but for those whose university lives are too cluttered for diving into Socrates, or who find the few steps up Mount Royal just not that fulfilling, I suggest the Lyle Lovett song quoted above.

Let’s start with the “if.” So many of our ambitions, dreams, and hopes depend on a whole array of “ifs.” This isn’t a bad thing – throwing “if” in front of a sentence does not mean chances are it won’t happen; it merely means it’s not set in stone. And seriously, how much fun would the whole thing be if it were set in stone? “If” doesn’t take away from life, it adds to it: I don’t need to have a boat to think “if I had a boat,” and that very thought sparks its possibility.

You may be asking if this is all fairy dust and leprechauns, or thoughts that don’t materialize – but you’re wrong. This is where the second verse of the song comes in…

“The mystery masked man was smart; he got himself a Tonto, ‘cause Tonto did the dirty work for free. But Tonto, he was smarter, and one day said, ‘kemo sabe, kiss my ass. I bought a boat – I’m going out to sea.’”

And out to sea he went. That’s right: we can often make our “ifs” happen by just getting up and doing so. Sure, we have to stay marginally realistic: if your “ifs” include dating Hillary Clinton and achieving world domination you would a) have a redundant list and b) never be allowed on my boat.

Hopefully, though, most of our “ifs” involve success, love, happiness, fun, freedom, and many other things that I think would be perfectly fulfilled if I could ride a pony on a boat in the ocean. With, of course – and here’s the enduring human characteristic – other people. Many of the aforementioned things would be empty were they not shared. And this is where the final words of the song comes in….

“And we could all together go out on the ocean…me, upon my pony, on my boat.”

Imagine that. You and the people you love. Riding and sailing away into the sunset. A dreamy picture, an idealistic picture, a picture that’s merely an “if” needed to be acted upon.

I realize this column might have upset many determinist philosophers, realist political scientists, mainstream pessimists, not to mention animal rights activists. But I stand by this creed: this life’s an ocean; get a boat or a pony or a whatever and make sure you ride it. Otherwise, you’ll be one of those on the sidelines shaking your head, wondering what the “ifs” are all about.

I think what Johanu’s trying to say is: don’t spend another minute wasting your life, send him an email at, and stay tuned for Botha’s next column in a couple weeks. It’ll thwart your academic grounding.