I have a confession to make. I love time travel. Or, rather, I enjoy the concept of time travel. It’s hard to truly LOVE something that doesn’t actually exist, but I can spend hours reading short stories and novels, or watching celluloid projections on the subject of time travel. It’s an abstract kind of love, but I’m okay with that. I’m a certifiable chronogeek and I’m not afraid to admit it.
The idea that somebody from the present could travel backwards in time fascinates me. Future travel is interesting, too, but not nearly as wondrous. I guess I just love the notion that people or events we only know about through faded pictures, narratives or scholarly study could actually be experienced in the first person. As they were. Or are.
This doesn’t mean I would change anything. There are a lot of theories about whether or not that would even be possible, by everybody from Einstein to Hawking. Carl Sagan had a lot to say on the subject. I’m not nearly as smart as any of those guys, but I have my own theory. It makes appearances in my own fiction, from time to time. It is, simply, that time is intractable. Inviolable. Set. Once something has been done, nothing can change it.
There could, therefore, be no assassination of Hitler before he committed his atrocities against the human race, because it already happened. It is immutable. Yes, a traveler might be able to go back in time, find the dictator in question, get close to him and put a bullet in his head, but the minute the traveler leaves that point in time, everything would simply snap back into place, like elastic. Hence, the timeline isn’t exactly rigid, either. Which gives rise to a much different form of storytelling device.
I’ve even taken into account the conceit that should a traveler decide to stay in the past and make a lifetime of changes, all he or she would be doing is creating a fantasy world that is every bit as unpredictable as the prime line itself. A bubble in time, so to speak. A blister on the face of spacetime.
The day that traveler ceases to exist – shuffles off the mortal coil, or abandons the invaded timeline – everything goes back to the way it was before he or she interjected him or herself. No alternate timeline, simply a wrinkle in the fabric of time that irons itself out the minute the cause of the wrinkle is removed from the equation. The possibilities, therefore, are endless, but the outcome would always be the same.
I’ve developed this theory over time. Some could even argue that this philosophical outlook on the theory of change has been shaped by personal beliefs. For years I have asserted that if I were suddenly gifted with the opportunity to travel back to any point in my life and change it, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Good or bad, everything that happened in my past shaped who I am today. I wouldn’t be the person I am without every single moment and, right now, I’m pretty okay with the guy looking back at me from the mirror. We’ve become grudging allies in this mad trek toward oblivion.
Given that opportunity, however, what I would do is observe. I would love to watch myself deal with certain hardships as they were multiplying (they always multiply. It’s a fact of life). I think it would give me great insight into the way I think today. Memory is a fickle thing and often revisionist. I think it would be beneficial to actually see how I navigated the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune to become the man I am today.
For that reason, I wish time travel were possible. But not that reason alone. I would also really love to be a time travelling Forest Gump, travelling outside my personal realm. Present in the important moments that defined our society, if not mankind in general. To watch as the first humanoid discovered fire. To be there when the first wheel was chisled, whittled, carved – whatever – and put to use in the way that changed everything.
I think it would be staggering to watch the pyramids being built or Alexander the Great navigating the field during his push into Persia. The mind boggles at the notion that I might bear witness to the sack of Troy, or the coronation of Elizabeth I, or Columbus making landfall in the New World.
As morbid as it may seem, I would love to be sitting in the Ford Theater when the gunshot rings out and John Wilkes Booth vaults from the presidential box to the stage to make his escape. Or to be strolling on the deck of the Titanic when the inky waters of the Pacific lurch up in the form of an iceberg to punch gashes in its super-chilled steel hull.
Even the journalist in me can find reasons to appreciate the time travel conceit. I’d love to have the opportunity to interview historical figures like Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, Marcus Aurelius or Sophocles. I’ve often imagined the brain-pickers I would pose to Homer, Dante Alighieri, William Shakespeare, Ralph Waldo Emerson or H.G. Wells. Hindsight may be 20/20, but that knowledge also allows us to remove the rose colored glasses and dig deep into motivation and truth.
Alas, if it ever does happen, it will not be in my lifetime and I’m okay with that eventuality, too. Any momentous discovery needs at least 20 years to trickle down to the level of public acceptance and general usage. I’m 54 now. If time travel were to be discovered this weekend, it wouldn’t be until I was in my 70s or older that the “common” man would be deemed worthy enough to enjoy it – assuming, of course, that my theory is correct and there are no chances of paradox or villainous intent. Too old to jaunt at that point, methinks.
Of course, I could be wrong about time travel altogether. Somebody has to be. I’m pretty sure most people would rather it be me than Einstein, Sagan or Hawking. I’m okay with that, too. Either way, if time travel is discovered this weekend, we can discuss it when I’m 74. Or, better yet, come visit me when I’m 54 and we can discuss it at length before it actually happens. I’ll put the kettle on.