Thursday, March 15, 2012

Time Travel Temptations

I recently finished reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63, and it has put time travel in my mind. The basic premise is that a man goes back in time to prevent the assassination of JFK. But first, to test that the changes can make a difference, he tries out saving a couple of other people.

Time travel has different incarnations in pop culture, whether it be this form of changing the past (or future, let us not forget Back to the Future 2), or simply enjoying a previous time, like in Midnight in Paris, or being at its mercy, as in The Time Traveler’s Wife or the 5th season of Lost (shameless excuse for picture of Sawyer shirtless). Maybe you are sent back to save humanity, ala Terminator 2 or Twelve Monkeys. In almost every example, people who travel in time have to be aware of the Butterfly Effect of making any changes. Kill a mosquito in the Paleolithic era, and find yourself back in a present world dominated by killer bees (yes, I’m making things up, but you never know, that is the point).

So I started thinking about if I could go back in time, what tragedies I might be able to remedy, without making too much of a splash in the space-time continuum. One of my old boss’s granddaughter died in a car accident a year or so ago, a totally sober and stupid case of teenage recklessness that ended horribly. I thought how easy it would be to track down the exact place and time (because doing research before you go is important, this was discussed a number of times in King’s book), and simply warn the girl to put on her seatbelt. And because this was recent history, not very much would be changed between then and now, besides saving her friends and family a lot of grief. True, she might grow up to have a large impact on the world, but how many people do, really? Seriously, most people’s lives make very small waves in the world at large.

Now if you did target a powerful public figure’s life to change, like saving JFK or killing Hitler before the Final Solution, or telling Shakespeare to lay off the iambic pentameter, things would change a lot more radically, at least that is the theory. It’s also entirely possible that the world realigns itself, if fate does have any place in our universe.

Anyway, it didn’t take me long to go from making a heroic action with my newly acquired time traveling skills, to just wanting to go back and make changes in my own life. Who hasn’t wondered if they had just chosen one thing differently at a key moment, how much different their life would be today? Or, if I just went back and invested in Apple when it first went public, or played those right lottery numbers, the temptation to use your new power for personal gain is also strong.

I know some people follow the idea that every step you’ve made has lead you to where you are today, and so every perceived misstep was actually important and worthwhile. And if you did make changes to anything, even to benefit yourself or your family, it might change a lot more than you intended. But the fact is, it only looks like a detriment if you are happy with where you are today. The idea of making a change to your whole life through one tweak to your past can just as easily look like a threat or a gift, depending on where you stand.
I won’t say exactly what I want to change, but I know where things went off the tracks for me, I know what day started me on a path that evidently led me here. And to be honest, here is neither where I ever thought nor wanted to be. So all I want to do is go back and warn my younger, oh so naive self to make a different decision. I’m pretty sure I could convince her, just by showing up looking very old (to a 16 or 17 year old), and still single and making not much money…basically, seeing me would scare the crap out of her and her teenage ideals of how her life should go, and I think that would make her stubborn smartass actually listen to me. The point being, if you change one key thing, you change any number of things that come after, and it’s sure to have a large (though not global or even national) impact.

Then again, when you start thinking of time travel as the best means of improving your situation, things are not looking terribly bright.

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