Sunday, September 11, 2011

Too Many Sad Days, Too Many Tuesday Mornings

"I thought of tomorrow and I wished it was Monday evening."-Spider Stacey

History is filled with moments when it seemed like events could have gone in an entirely different direction if only a crucial person had made a different choice, if only something hadn't happened the way it did. When it resulted in tragedy having been averted (the Germans halting their advance at Dunkirk, for example), we tend to consider these to be lucky breaks, and even though decades or centuries may separate us from the events in question, we breathe a sigh of relief. When the events result in great tragedy, however, we sit back with the gift of hindsight and distance of many decades or centuries and frame the events which followed as having been inevitable; yes, this may have been the spark, but all the necessary components for an explosion were in place, so if this particular thing hadn't set it off, something else would have.

This doesn't just happen in historical analysis, it happens in many fictional accounts of time travel and parallel universes as well. For example, in his absolutely brilliant novel Making History, Stephen Fry does a particularly splendid job of imagining a world made worse by the absence of Hitler, arguing that all the pieces that led to his rise and The Holocaust were in place and had he not done it, someone else would have, perhaps more effectively. The argument, it seems, is that history is set in stone, not just because it has already happened, but because even if one has the means to change the past, the past cannot be changed.

So all this being said, for a good chunk of my life I did not spend much time wishing for a Time Machine so I could tell John F. Kennedy to stay out of Dallas

Another great trope of much speculative fiction is that in those instances where one travels to a parallel universe (or encounters travelers from parallel universes) the other ones are worse than ours; of course, this is not always readily obvious to the denizens of our universe. Eventually, however, no matter how awesome the other universes may seem, we find that all those little things that made our universe our universe made it superior to us (if only because it is ours. For example, in His Dark Materials, Will and Lyra travel to many different worlds, each of them interesting and different, but learn that living in worlds not their own will rob them of health and years of life).

So while I may have spent some time wondering what might have been if only Catherine of Aragon's two year old son had not died, it is easy for me to suspect that something else would have happened to have made enough of the history I know come to pass (none of Henry's boy children were hale or hearty, so if he did not outlive Henry, he probably would have had the same panicky need for an male heir leading into a lady in waiting's arms after Catherine's womb ceased to bear fruit) and to appreciate the good things that probably resulted from the events (would we have Shakespeare if Henry VIII had remained married to his first wife and not broken with the Church of Rome?).

It is really easy to do this when the events in question are not ones one has witnessed in real time and the history isn't currently one's present.

It has been ten years and the thing I wish with all my heart is that we could go back to the world as it was on September 10, 2001.

I look at what has happened since that day, because of that day--the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the worldwide economic recession, the erosion of our rights and civil liberties in this country, the erosion of our morality with regards to how we detain and interrogate prisoners, the rise of islamophobia--and I am sickened. But aside from all that, I still just wish the attacks never happened. I wish we all didn't know that planes could be used as bombs and that skyscrapers could be brought down in a couple of hours. I wish that so many of us did not watch people jumping from windows because that was preferable to being burned alive. I wish that we collectively did not know what it was like to feel as if time had ceased to exist and then to realize it hadn't, that it would still march relentlessly forward whether we wanted it to or not.

The events of that day did change the course of history. And while it is impossible to know what the world would be like if that day had not happened, I believe if I were I to meet someone who walked between the worlds (much like the guy in the Sandman story The Golden Boy), they would look upon me with pity because I am from one of the worlds where September 11, 2001 was not just another beautiful Indian Summer day.



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