“What’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget.”
— Carol Bayer Sager
Tonight an old friend and I were having one of those free ranging conversations that travel effortlessly between the present and the distant past. Anecdotes from long ago mingled casually with up to the minute events.
I found myself thinking of the song “Time Warp” from Rocky Horror, and specifically the lyrics “It’s a bit of a mind flip / you’re into a time slip / and nothing can ever be the same.” And I found myself thinking, is that really true? Is it true that, as Wolfe said, you can’t go home again?
Suppose you could go into a time slip whenever you wanted, transport yourself back to when you were twelve years old, or five, or seventeen, and relive those moments in all their vivid reality. You couldn’t change anything, because then you’d negate the existence of your current self. But you could look, and hear, and feel. Like Emily Webb, you could relive a day long past.
Would you do this? My first answer upon pondering this question was an unequivical “Yes!”. But then I thought about it some more, and now I’m not so certain.
Memories are not literal. Rather, they are part of a narrative that we have each constructed for ourselves through the years, a sort of living defense against the randomness of reality. We need our stories, our personal myths. Just as Newton stood on the shoulders of giants, we each stand upon the shoulders of our younger selves.
But if we went back and had to face our past reality as it truly happened, we might discover all sorts of unpleasant truths. We might no longer be able to draw upon our most sacred truths.
Maybe that’s a good thing. On the other hand, maybe it’s not worth the risk.