Time is a tricky thing. It just keeps moving forward now matter how much we may want to halt it completely or at least slow down a bit so we can revel in the moment a little longer. The real problem with time though, is that you only get one chance. Every decision has to go in one direction and that sets your life down a new path, quite potentially different than it would have been a few moments before. Sometimes those decisions are out of your control; the world acts upon you in ways you could not foresee or avoid, and you are left with the wreckage of “fate.” Most decisions that we contemplate though are those within our control. For example, if I had perhaps chosen to forgo the ice cream at a birthday party knowing that I was lactose-intolerant (but love ice cream, nonetheless) I might not have been sick that evening and would have gotten a better night’s sleep and therefore been more mentally prepared for my choir auditions the next day. Most of these decisions are relatively inconsequential, and we very rarely dwell on them or trace back a particular failure to something so simple as eating ice cream.
However, I like to imagine the world in multiple timelines. It gives me a sense of peace to imagine an alternate world in which I have made significantly different decisions that have led me to a different life. The imagined life itself need not be better than the one I’m leading now. (Although admittedly, when I’m feeling down my imaginary alternate realties do seem much more enticing than the current life I’m leading). I think that though the ability to change the past or turn back time is out of our human grasp (and more than likely ill-advised) we still would jump at the chance of being able to do so, and I’ve boiled down this theory into four main compulsions.
1.) There is at least one moment in our past we think could have changed the course of our lives had we chosen differently.
For daydreamers like me, I think this is the biggest reason we would want to turn back time. I am a very reflective person, and I understand and agonize over moments in my life that I see as significant turning points. The first for me was in fifth grade when a rather popular boy asked me to be his girlfriend. This was the first time anyone had ever shown any romantic interest in me and would have launched my career in popularity within my school’s social hierarchy I suspect for the rest of my life. However, I had a crush on his best friend so I said no. Even though by the end of fifth grade and for the next four years I had a desperate school girl crush on this same boy who never again returned my affections. Instead, he went on to date another girl who would eventually become homecoming and prom queen in high school. I’m not saying that dating this particular boy and becoming popular are directly related, but I can imagine that being the first among my friends to have a boyfriend would have significantly increased my confidence and later my popularity. I like to wonder what it would have been like to be well-known in high school for something other than my impeccable grades and determined attitude.
This is, however, a shallow kind of turning-back-time desire, I would say. Also, it could very well change my essential being. (I can’t imagine myself as being someone who only cared about boys and clothes and popularity. I’m proud of my academic accomplishments even if they left me with few friends.) A better life-changing point would be when I first entered college. At the time I was burdened by an overprotective father who didn’t want to let me go and a paranoid, high-school boyfriend who felt that every new friend I made was a betrayal to our relationship. If I could do it over, I would go into college boyfriend-less and without my enabling demeanor that kept me on the phone every night with family rather than out meeting new people and developing meaningful relationships. I don’t believe that changing this would change my essential self, but I do think it would have made college (especially my first two years) much more enjoyable and formative for me.
2.) We believe that we could change something out of our control if we had the knowledge we do now.
This is the part of turning-back-time that is difficult because we would want to prevent people’s deaths and major catastrophes. It makes me think of Meg Menzies from Richmond, VA who was killed by a drunk driver while on a morning run with her husband. Something as simple as the school bus picking up their kids late put them later on the road so that her timeline collided with that of the driver resulting her death. It’s not a choice that she and her husband could have actively foresaw and changed. It happened in an instant and sent their lives spinning out of control. It’s situations like this that make me wonder, if her husband could turn back time would he ask her to sit out from running that morning? Would he take a different route? Or would she somehow have met her untimely end nonetheless?
These situations hurt my heart, but I do think we find comfort in believing that with the knowledge we can only possess as a result of the passing of time and experience we would have changed the past despite its impossibility.
3.) We could reevaluate situations that time and separation has clouded our memories on.
And by “situations” I mostly mean relationships. Whether it’s family or friendships or romantic partners, we all look back on “wrongs” done to us and destructive moments and misunderstandings. Time builds bridges, ravines, and vast canyons between us when we let these memories sit and fester. If we could turn back time, I think it would be beneficial for us to go back and re-experience the hurt that created the lasting pain. Of course, it’s something that I doubt anyone would willingly want to do—what a torturous idea to redo all one’s past heartbreaks—but I can certainly see the benefit in it. In the heat of the moment, we are all emotion and our decisions are many times not the wisest but rather what we feel we have a right to because of the pain. I do believe that with time we might be able to see the truth behind these painful situations and know better if it’s a relationship worth salvaging in the future.
4.) We would like to relive (and truly enjoy) the beautiful moments.
People are always telling me to live in the moment, and I try ever so hard; however, doing so remains one of the most impossible feats I’ve ever attempted. For me (and I imagine many others) truly “enjoying the moment” requires knowing that the moment is “THE MOMENT” in the moment. (Confusing, right?) I do have times when I realize without a doubt that I am experiencing a formative moment in my life, one that I will likely never experience again and should soak up with everything I have in me. Most moments though pass on by without a second thought. It is only months or years later that I remember fondly a past time and I understand that it was the only and last of its kind. And it is then that I regret not enjoying it to its fullest. Instead, I spend most of my moments wishing time away, always trying to get on to the next moment with its promise of being better. Living that way doesn’t give you satisfaction, unfortunately, and you find that all your time has been whisked away on a whim.
“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”
So I know for myself and I think for most everyone, if we could turn back time, we would do so in order to enjoy the beautiful moments in life. We may have reveled in them in the moment or completely overlooked them, but beautiful moments are made that way for a reason. We relive them in our minds and long to be back there if we had the power to turn back time. Time is painful and beautiful all at once, but if there is one thing we do know is that it’s ever moving forward. So for our best interest, maybe we should take a moment to truly enjoy the moment so that for once we might not want so desperately to go back in time.