Changing Past Lives
Regret is not pleasant, but it’s difficult to get through life without it. We all have things we wish we’d done differently. This is why you will often hear people lament, “If only I could go back in time with all the knowledge I have now…”
People think if they could go back in time and fix their mistakes, or do something different, then they would find themselves in an alternate present. One where they are wealthy, famous, or more happy than they are now. Those people are fools who don’t know themselves very well.
If I could go back in time with all the knowledge I have know, first of all it would be horrible, and second I would probably achieve even less and make even greater mistakes.
If would be cool to be able to travel through time. It would be fun to go back and peruse the stacks in the Library at Alexandria, to have a chat with a young Abe Lincoln, or to see what dinosaurs really looked like. All of these time travel adventures would be cool precisely because they have nothing to do with my own life experience.
At first, it does seem like a good idea to go back and relive moments from my own timeline, but upon further examination that idea just seems…bad. Sure, it would be great to see friends and family that I can’t anymore, but does anyone really want to be a toddler again? Or a teenager?
It might be neat to relive all the big moments, but what about all the boring bits you would have to live through again? It is easy to idealize the past and forget about all the dentist appointments, the school days, and that exquisite feeling of having to get your mom to drive you places.
When people talk about traveling to their own past, they don’t mean they want to relive past events. What they really want to do is change them. People think, “If I went back in time I could do better in school and be rich.”
Would you really do better in school if you had to do it again? I know I wouldn’t. If I woke up tomorrow in 2007 and a teacher I can barely remember told me my homework was due, I probably wouldn’t do it. I’m an adult now and care even less about homework than I did as a teenager. I know English papers and science projects don’t matter!
People think, “If I could go back in time I would be cooler and more social. People would like me more. I could be a Casanova!” Would they, really? I was sort of a weird kid. I don’t believe people would have liked me any more had I been a weird kid with the mind of a weird adult. That would be quite unsettling, actually.
People say, “If I could go back in time I would buy stock in some company or bet on a sports game. Then I’d be rich!” I don’t believe this last time-travel wish is true, either. How is a kid going to buy stock or bet on sports games? Adults think they can go back in time and act like adults, but they have forgotten what it means to be a kid. It means you can’t do anything you want, and no one takes you seriously.
People want to go back in time to change their present circumstances. To make different decisions and do different things, but I don’t believe that would work. I do think you could go back and stop Hitler from taking over the moon, because that never really happened. If you didn’t want to fill out applications, or do homework, or socialize with people the first time around, what makes you think you would want to do those things on a revisit?
If I went back in time I wouldn’t do more homework. I would do less. Homework is stupid. I wouldn’t spend less time playing video games, I would spend more! And I certainly wouldn’t fit in any better.
It would be horrible to go back in time and be a teenager again, as tempting as it is to think otherwise. It would not lead to a better present, just desperate years of trying to control things you never had a chance to control in the first place. It would probably make a person insane. Maybe all the weird homeless people are the ones who tried to change the past and all it did was make them crazy and incompetent.
Of course, I still think about changing my own past all the time. Maybe I could do things differently, or have fewer regrets. Maybe I could have published books, or risen to power somehow. But when I think about all the things I could have done, I try to remind myself, maybe I still could…
The past is a great thing to learn from, but it is far better to fantasize about the future.