We’ve all played the parlor games that go something like this,”What if you were able to go back in time? Where would you go? Whom would you want to see?” Aside from the fact that at least for now it’s impossible to travel back into history, it’s fun to imagine sitting across from a host of interesting characters. It’s often difficult to narrow down the possible choices and to decide what to say when you get there. Do you just take in the times as they were, or do you warn individuals of events that are yet to come? Would it be proper to tell Abraham Lincoln not to go the theater on the night of his assassination? Of course even the smallest hint about the future would have the potential of changing everything, so there would be a certain danger in revealing all that we know. Still, the possibilities are so tempting, making it even more difficult to choose where to go and whom to visit.
On a personal level there is a temptation to go find a favorite loved one or some long lost and mysterious relatives, but then the very idea of being present at the signing of the Declaration of Independence or hearing Jesus give the sermon on the mount is breathtaking. Being an eye witness to history has a dramatic appeal as does actually speaking with heroes from the past. It’s a challenge to choose just one time, place or individual.
I saw a program on PBS in which Stephen Hawking explained that theoretically it might be possible to go back in time, but the real problem lies in getting back home. He explained that the laws of physics appear to preclude advancing into the future, so anyone who went backward in time would find themselves stuck in a cosmic wrinkle. I can’t pretend that I understood a word that he said in describing this phenomenon, but it tells me that we probably won’t have too many takers even if we ever do find a way to travel into the past. Who would be willing to be stuck in a foreign environment until death?
I used to have a very strange theory that Jesus came from an advanced civilization far in the future that is so nearly perfect that it is akin to heaven. Knowing what we would do to ourselves as humans He agreed to go back in time to teach us how we should live. Of course He had no way of returning from whence He had come, so He had to stay here on earth being ultimately tortured and put to death. My theory falls apart upon His death because He rose from leaving an empty tomb. Maybe somebody had finally found a way to get back home by the time of His existence in a world far away in time and place. (My apologies to those who might find my curious thoughts to be a form of blasphemy. I just like to dabble in unusual thinking from time to time. I actually do believe in God but I have always felt that we have never completely figured Him out. Thus I propose strange ideas now and again.)
We humans are so fascinated by the past, but I truly wonder how many of us would be able to survive in days gone by. We tend to fantasize about what things were like, forgetting how difficult daily living was little more than a hundred years ago and all the way back to the beginning of time. Walking with Jesus would be hot and dusty and devoid of any of the conveniences that we take for granted. The dangers that our Founding Fathers faced from being tried and found guilty of treason might overwhelm us. Our romantic visions of ancient Greece would become dashed with the realities of lives quite different and far more brutal from those of our imaginations. I suspect that the truth is that there is no turning back once we have moved forward. I doubt that most of us would even want to retreat to a time as recently as the nineteen fifties.
Our longing for the good old days is most often misplaced. Our advances since bygone days are so spectacular that we would be misfits even in a culture that many of us actually experienced. In the fifties, for example, we’d be looking for our cell phones and wondering why our televisions only had three channels, all in black and white. We would be stunned by overt racism and segregation. We would witness people dying from illnesses for which there are now cures. All in all I suspect that we would be more than ready to return to the present.
I don’t suppose that time travel will ever become a reality and I’m rather certain that it wouldn’t be a good thing even if we somehow found the capability. As humans we slowly but surely evolve and progress. Nothing ever stays exactly the same and that is a good thing. We sometimes feel the rush of change happening too quickly for our taste and the sting of regret creates a desire for second changes, but all in all we are better off looking to the future than clinging to the past. It’s a beautiful thing to know that on the whole we have a tendency to get better and better as time goes by.
We can learn from our history but there is little need to relive it. Instead our goal should be to make the most of our here and now. It is in how we handle today that our tomorrows may be brighter. Carpe diem is one of the best piece of wisdom by which we may lead our lives. The past may be fascinating but this day is where we become whatever we were meant to be.