I have always adored books about time travel. Stephen King's 11/22/63 is no exception. It's not a horror novel but a well-told told story about a guy who goes back in time to try and stop the assassination of President Kennedy. It's funny, nostalgic, suspenseful, thought-provoking and on top of that -- a great love story! I could not put it down.
But this is not a book review. It's the reveal of an ah-ha moment about life imitating art. Time travel is an interesting concept. Most discussions about time travel eventually get to the paradox of what would happen if you went back in time and killed your own grandmother. Then you wouldn't be born, but if you hadn't been born, you wouldn't be traveling into the past, would you?
The King book is about what happens when you mess with the chain of events and all the causal links. For example, you might save a man from being seriously injured in a horrible car accident, but then he might get killed later because he was able-bodied and sent to fight in a war. Tinkering with the past could have unintended consequences.
I wasn't thinking about time travel or Stephen King as we were watching the election news in Charleston, SC. We lived there five years and absolutely loved it. They showed some images of the city, and I said, "If only we hadn't left." My husband said, "You might be dead."
Because the chain of events were such that I was diagnosed with cancer shortly after we moved to a new city. It was almost as if the right doctor who knew exactly how to treat my cancer was standing by waiting for me to get there. I got to live, and well, you can't argue with those results. What if we had stayed in Charleston? Was anyone there going to cure me?
Suddenly, the real-life applications of fictional time travel became clear to me. All these things that happened in your life had to happen in order for you to get here. Even if you could go back and undo the damage, undo the stupid decisions and all the other bad stuff that haunts you, you might change just enough to end up in far worse shape than you are now.
Thinking about life as time travel helped me move on. When I think about Charleston now, my memories are filled with nostalgia not regret. Sometimes things happen for no apparent rhyme or reason, and sometimes we have a hand in it, but eventually what happens, happens, and it becomes our past. The past is an accumulation of causal links in our own journey through time.
We are all time travelers on this train, and I find that comforting. And liberating. It helps me let go of the why's and the what if's. The Stephen King book speculates that traveling through time and changing the past can produce disastrous results. I'm speculating that traveling through our memories of time and regretting the past is pretty much the same gig.