This morning, I’m thinking about parallel lives.
In the book I just finished, toward the end, the main character is offered the opportunity to go back and relive his life from a certain point. He takes the offer, goes back to a critical moment in his life and changes the course of things, all by refraining from making a particular confession. As it is explained to him by the entity making the offer, we live in a multiverse, with parallel lives unfolding all around us. Whether or not the bee stings you in the backyard, whether or not you confess something to your girlfriend under the warmth of the covers, could have ripple effects that change lives. And in actuality, all possibilities transpire. The you that you are aware of only exists on one of those paths.
Eight years ago this morning, I headed to Harvard Square with the knowledge that something bad was happening in New York City. I had been in the old Congress Street office of Boston.com — not the newsroom over at the Globe, but the office where the more feature-y sections were based along with advertising, IT etc. I was an intern for Boston.com’s old digitalMASS site and was preparing to go interview the two guys who ran a company that optimized transit schedule data for wireless devices (back then, it was predominantly for Palm Pilots and the like). My boss always listened to NPR on his headphones. It was just before 9AM when he pulled the headphones out of the jack and said, “Hey, guys, listen to this.”
As we listened to the broadcaster detailing what had just happened, we hopped on the AP wires — the greatest benefit of working at a news organization, and one I still miss, is having every wire story in the world at your fingertips — and saw the bulletins coming in. Just then, the broadcaster broke out of his measured urgency. Something else had happened, something that changed everything.
Details were still sketchy when I got on the T. I got to Harvard Square, met the guys, exchanged small talk about “something happening in Manhattan,” and did the interview. I got back on the T.
When I emerged at South Station, I saw hordes of people heading toward the trains. I was baffled. “Excuse me,” I asked someone, “Are they sending everybody home?” “Yes,” someone answered. Everyone was distracted, concerned.
I went back to the office and pulled up the homepage of Boston.com. It was the part of the morning after the towers fell, but when they still could not account for every plane in the sky. Soon, I was pressed into service, formatting stories, gathering information, cropping photos.
About a month later, I was working on the Sunday morning when the war in Afghanistan began. Two months later, I got hired on full-time, leaving digitalMASS behind.
Something missing from that timeline is the story from the interview I did that morning. It never got written. Why? Because I lost my notebook. I never lose notebooks, but this one I lost. I looked everywhere, but it never turned up.
The funny thing? No one ever asked me about it — not my editor, not my interview subjects. I held my breath for a while wondering if anyone would bring it up, but they never did.
Priorities had changed.
Going back to the multiverse, I wonder if somewhere out there, in an untouchable dimension, my story about the guys who publish those transit schedules for mobile devices got published, another clip in my portfolio. I wonder if I snoozed through an early October Sunday morning shift, because there’s never any news on Sundays except for enterprise pieces by the AP you’ve been seeing on the wires for days but now the embargo has finally broken. I wonder if I never read any bylines from Kandahar or Kabul or Jalalabad, because those places were irrelevant and nothing the American media cared about ever happened there. I wonder if I would have had no reason to get pissed on the morning of Sept. 11, 2002, as I watched the nationally-mandated moments of silence unfold on television but saw the newsroom around me continue humming without pause.
Here’s something, though: even if the aforementioned entity approached me with that tantalizing offer — hopping to another track of the multiverse to relive my life from one moment on — it is overwhelmingly likely that it would still be a life where I frantically called my friend Rob to make sure he was OK, since I didn’t know where his office was, and a life where I didn’t yet know that I should call my brother, who worked at NYU, to see if he was alright, because he was not yet a part of my life.
Alas, while it is an intriguing idea, I don’t believe in the multiverse. Once an action is taken, the course is chosen. That’s just the way it is. So here we are, eight years later. And what do we have? Well, we do have one thing. We don’t have to go back in time to change the course of our lives from a single moment. This moment. Right here. We are limited by the realities that exist, but not by the array of realities we have the means to create.
And no matter what happens, we always have that power. And no matter how grey the morning dawns, no matter the date on the calendar, that is always something to cherish and celebrate.