The question was posed to me today of Time Travel.
Of all the super powers in the world to choose from, it’s actually not one I’ve really considered in depth. Quite a surprise since in essence, I’m quite a retrospective person. I like to plan, to look to the future and try to figure the paths before they have even been trod. I don’t like surprises, I like to be in control and to know the outcome before I embark upon a journey. Then again, when that fails, like the best made plans always do, my life subsides into a series of “it seemed like a good idea at the time” moments. Actually, that happens far more often than I would like… thought not as much now that I have more or less given up drinking (alcohol that is, not liquids in general… that’s just mighty impractical…).
The reason this question was asked of me was because this person was feeling melancholy and wished that he could undo things in his life so far, to make them better.
Perhaps your first reaction to this question tells something about the person. At first, I was cheeky – “If you had the ability to go back in time, what would you do with it?” At first, I said, “Use it :P”
My gut reaction was to go back and play Poirot; investigate, stalk some great thinkers. It would be interesting to go back to pivotal moments in the lives of certain people and see what it was that inspired them or made them do certain things. As a book lover, I would probably go back and stalk Oscar Wilde. The man was a visionary. Had be been born in this era, he would have been hailed as an imaginative genius, a hero of gay rights, a quirky, damaged, comedic maverick, his place in the trendy, hipster regions of London guaranteed. While all these things happened in his time, his life ended in exile, those rights stripped of him for his sexuality and ingenuity, not to be reinstated til a generation more receptive to his progressive views arose.
But it needn’t be famous people. Perhaps someone more ordinary, but important or interesting to you. My grandfather, for example, spent his entire life at sea, as a Chief Engineer. He visited over 120 ports all over the globe, in every exotic alcove, every far off crevice and limpet encrusted recess you could ever hope to name, in a career spanning almost half a century. Imagine the things he saw. To share such moments as those would be an experience like no other. And the world has moved on from those days. It has changed shape, technology metamorphosing it from flowing on billowing while sails to bleeping along in a blur of binary and sonar.
The person who posed the question was thinking more in terms of righting wrongs, both ones that had been done to him and ones that had come around as a consequence of sufferings of years ago. There are events in all our lives that echo down, down, down and impact us in very real ways.
He wants to go back to change things, Marty McFly, Back to the Future style. But I am a big believer in your own history being the making of you. A lot of your life might suck and for sure there are going to be things that continue to sting, no matter how long you leave them for, or how much time has departed since those events took place, but all that makes you a richer person. I would certainly love to eradicate some of my regrets to ease my own conscience, but then, to balance that up, would that then make me a better person, or just a different one? And if it made me a different one, would I even like who I became as a result? Were we able to re-write our own key life events so that they worked “in our favour”, would we not be plainer people? To have never suffered is not really to have experienced all of life. To have only seen the good things, and known nothing but joy and ease of living is to have experienced only one surface of the many faceted diamond of life. You have only ever seen the shiny side. But there are all manner of clarities, colours and cuts of diamonds. Why limit ones self to seeing only one aspect of the gem?
So I guess it got me to thinking; What if we could travel back in time? Forgetting the complexities of time travel and the potential for anything from the sweetly Hollywood version seen in Back to the Future, to the catastrophic tampering seen in The Butterfly Effect to happen, what would most people do if they could go to any time? And what would be the motivation?
Personally, I think I would leave my own past alone. I would travel back as an Observer, to understand more why certain things happened. They say knowledge is power. Whoever “they” are, or were, i think they’re onto something. Humans have this innate ability to adapt and survive and we will continue to do so. The fact that we can live our lives through horrors of increasingly unbelievable magnitude is proof of that.
Maybe there will be some who think it criminal not to use such power for preventing some man-made atrocity, like the Holocaust. Or even, not going to the crib of Hitler, or Stalin, and smothering them before the evil had time to germinate. But think about the marks they left on history. Is there any way to predict the impact those events not happening would have had on an infinite number of lives through generations and countries alike? How could one individual possibly handle that level of onus? For something like to be eradicated, wiped clean, would change the fall life along history in unpredictable ways. Perhaps it would pave the way for something even worse. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. That is one of my favourite sayings because I believe it to be true.
Anyway, there you have it. Time Travel. For better or worse, the potential inspires retrospect. Whether you use that power for personal or public gain, is a question to battle with your own conscience.