Changing the Past?

First of all, I would just like to mention that I attempted to upgrade Greymatter to the latest version last night and had all sorts of problems and that’s why the front page looked whacky this morning. Given a general lack of time to muck about with it, I restored everything from my backup and rolled back to the previous release until I have some time to think through the upgrade a bit more.

On to meatier things.

Over on The Usual Suspects we’ve been doing an interview project inspired by the interview meme that went around the journalling/blogging community a couple of months ago. One of the questions in a recent interview really made me stop and think, so I wanted to write something about how I would answer that question if it had been asked of me. Others on the board have been intrigued by the question as well and there’s been a small amount of discussion about it.

My pal Neil is the author of the question in um … question and it goes like this:

You are in a room with three doors:

The first door leads to a world where you were never born. You simply cease to exist and everyone else’s existence would be altered to delete you. No one would mourn your passing because you never existed for them.

The second door leads to a specific point of your choosing where you would be allowed to alter a decision you made or an action you took. You would be required to live your life from that point forward and would not have a chance to enter the room a second time. Your choice would be permanent for not only you, but everyone else affected by the change.

The final door leads back to the moment before you entered the room. Your life will not be changed in any way. You will not even know you were given such a choice.

Which door do you choose and why?

When I first read this scenario and the question after it, my first reaction was a gut, knee-jerk one: Definitely not Option #1. It may be selfish or arrogant of me, but I think I’m a good person and that I’ve by and large had a positive effect on the people around me. There’s also the simple fact that without me, there would be no Victor and well, robbing Vic of his existence just wouldn’t be fair to him.

Options 2 and 3 though, pose a slightly more complicated thought process. I’d love to be able to say, without question, that I wouldn’t change a single thing about my life and I would walk through door #3 without changing anything. But there are things in my life that I do regret. Some of them, I’ve come to terms with. I’ve made my peace with the pain I went through as a result of some of the decisions I’ve made. I’ve been able to forgive myself for my role in those decisions and how others acted as a result. In those cases, quite simply I was the architect of my own suffering and I learned something from the experience. I can live with those things and move beyond them.

There is however, one thing that I would like to change. Not necessarily the decision itself, but the way that I carried out the decision, simply because it caused some hurt to someone else. I wasn’t fair to someone I cared about deeply and I sincerely wish I’d handled things differently. That person has carried the memory of what happened around for a while and spoken to me about it since then. I’ve apologized, given voice to my regrets and in the end there’s been a semi-positive outcome, a healing of old wounds, so to speak.

Still, I wish I could take back that moment of panic, where I was lost and confused and did not do the right thing and hurt another person as a result. It would be mighty tempting indeed to take advantage of the chance to wipe away that hurt and see if a more positive way of handling the situation could have carried forward to the greater good.

At the same time, playing around with the past is dangerous – you never know how what you would do would change things. I wouldn’t want to risk losing what I have, because what I have, despite past pain, is very good. Again, for me, there’s Victor to consider. I wouldn’t want to do anything that jeopardized his existence. I don’t think that changing the way I carried out my decision would actually change things that much, it would just be less painful for the other person involved. The pain that I felt that led me to the decision wouldn’t change, but at least I wouldn’t have treated someone else so shabbily and caused pain.

Basically, if I could just remove that hurt from the other person, that could be worth it.

In the end though, I find myself worrying that the risk of changing something irrevocably would just be too great. There’s also this – who am I to decide whether or not someone else’s life should be changed? In changing my actions, I’d be changing another person’s destiny too and I wouldn’t want to do that without that person’s permission.

So I probably would walk through that third door without looking back, and return to my life as it is, with all its imperfections and difficulties, beauties and joys and the love of my family, especially that of one adorable little boy.