If you were presented with a time travel machine, in which you could journey back and forth to moments in your life, would you travel back and change anything?
It’s a preposterous but intriguing question, and it came up at a family birthday party. By the time the conversation ended I realized the discussion became less about science fiction and a little bit more about our spirituality and themes of guilt and regret.
Be it simply an ill-phrased remark that hurt someone’s feelings, or a sin we’re too ashamed to discuss, we’re human beings so we have a past.
I’m not a science fiction fan, so I can’t remember what current movie sparked the conversation. But google “time travel” and you’ll find the top 25 time travel movies, so clearly it’s a popular topic, from H.G. Wells to “Back to the Future.”
“If you could go back in time, would you change anything?” one of my brothers asked the group.
One sibling and I nodded our heads yes. There were things we would change, and no thanks, we’re not going to mention them.
But our younger brother surprised me. He argued with us, saying that the things in life that seemed hard at the time were the things that made him stronger. He had grown from all the mistakes or the mishaps. He wouldn’t change anything.
I wondered later if one sibling and I were thinking more in terms of our own guilt, and our younger brother was thinking more in terms of things that had befallen him. How else to explain the difference?
Or does our younger brother just have a much healthier outlook on life — that we’re bound to make mistakes, and that the best route to happiness and spiritual growth is to pick ourselves up, accept God’s forgiveness, and grow from what we’ve done?
I hope we continue that conversation someday. But it reminded me that to abandon unhealthy guilt makes us stronger, more productive and happier. Probably the one thing that can make me feel heavy and weighted down is regret, small or large.
It’s my contention that no normal person raises a family of kids to adulthood without having some regrets. Sometimes, that Sinatra song floats through my mind. “Regrets, I’ve had a few.. . .”
But Frank did it his way and no one looks to him for spiritual guidance anyway.
And speaking of songs, later that week I heard that Percy Sledge had died. Sledge endeared himself to Baby Boomers with the unforgettable “When a Man Loves a Woman.” Sledge said he had written that song after a girlfriend left him.
I wondered if, given time travel, Sledge would have gone back and corrected the mistakes he probably made and saved the relationship. Would he have traded in that heartbreak for the song that moved so many and earned him so much?
But of course neither Percy Sledge nor any of us gets a redo. So if we’re healthy, we confront our sin, confess it, know we’ve been forgiven and redeemed, and realize that our mistakes can be a fertile ground for growth.
Unless there’s something horrific from our past that we’ve never honestly confronted, what we should be concerned about is the present — what are we doing right now that is preventing us from being the loving, giving person God wants us to be? I think the Evil One — the enemy of our human nature as Saint Ignatius called him — scores a goal when he leads us stealthily into the murky waters of unhealthy and lingering regrets.
The writer, formerly from Anchorage, now lives in Omaha, Neb.