If I Only Knew Then What I Know NowJan 3rd, 2014 | By Editorial Staff | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog
As I lay on my couch recently, watching something uplifting on TV (probably Downton Abbey) something about the light in the room took me back to my youth, and for a moment our home reminded me of my childhood home. I remembered watching TV on our old couch, with a light on in the kitchen, on early winter evenings, probably something more along the lines of Bob Newhart Show re-runs.
It was then that I had this odd thought: What if you were transported back in time and retained all of your current memory and knowledge, but you wanted to keep your life the way it was when the time shift occurred? People are always saying, “If I only knew back then what I know now.” If it’s a man saying this, he’s thinking, “I could have gotten all the chicks when I was a teenager if only I knew what I know now.” My thought was, I like my life the way it is now. I don’t want to change it significantly. I really like my family, and I seriously doubt I could have pulled off a bigger coup than getting my wife to marry me. So if I had to go back to, say, age 14, could I arrange my life so that I end up in the same place as I am now?
First of all, I love the idea of a do-over. There are so many things in life I would do differently if I could do them over again. But if I changed anything, how would I get the big things to repeat – meeting my wife, having the kids I have, etc.? It would be impossible. It would be heartbreaking. It reminds me of that Nicolas Cage movie Family Man, in which he goes to an alternate reality, where he’s married to Tea Leoni, and then shifts back to his reality, which, it turns out, he doesn’t really like that much in comparison. Heartbreaking.
For me, the funny thing about this thought experiment is remembering all the bone-headed things I’ve done in my life that have gotten me to this moment — to this reality that I like. Imagine trying to repeat all of that. Years of thoughtlessness and inconsideration, messing up my first marriage, dropping out of college, taking a job driving a tow truck for god’s sake! Change any little tiny thing and the whole chain of events shifts to a different path entirely.
It was frightening to think about, as I lay on the couch. I thought, “This would make a good plot for a book.” I come up with about one good plot for a book each month. I start one book with a good plot about every six years. I haven’t finished writing one yet. For me, it’s the journey, not the destination (alert: rationalization).
It’s also funny to think about how many things happen in your life not in relation to, or even in spite of, your intentions. I met my current wife through a former co-worker. We all went out to dinner. I almost didn’t go, but decided, what the hell, why not? It’s not like I orchestrated the meeting. Now, if I had to go back through years of turmoil just to get to that moment, and then knew that I had to make sure I met her in that way in order to initiate our relationship, how could I pull it off? There’s no way. I would be trying too hard. Plus, what was I like at that age? If I thought the way I do now, would she have been as interested in me? Scary to think about.
At this time of goal-setting and New Year’s resolutions, it might be of value to think about all of the wonderful things that have happened in our lives without a goal or resolution to direct them. Think of all of the happy accidents that have made your life what it is. I like to plan, and to have a plan, but most of the good things that have happened to me were the result of deviations. What does that teach us about the value of living in the moment?
If I ever do get transported back in time, to an earlier age, I hope that I retain no memory of what would then be the future. I don’t want to know what I’m missing out on if I can’t repeat all of the acts — good and bad — that got me where I enjoyed being. In a weird way, I have a feeling that there are infinite universes out there, all alternate realities, each one following different paths for each of us and continually branching into more alternate realities, when we make choices or have a choice made for us. And maybe that’s how someone with a great life can feel depressed – he’s not doing so well in 57 percent of his alternate realities. Or how someone in a tough spot can be so happy – she’s rocking it in 73 percent of her alternate realities.
Who ever said that lying on the couch watching TV was a mindless activity?
Have a safe and profitable week.