Stories of alternative universes abound
Last updated 1/23/2020 at 10:08am | View PDF
They were the subject of a recent podcast from This American Life - "Gardens of Branching Paths."
I enjoyed hearing the stories of a Jew imagining parallel universes without the Nazis, a speech President Bill Clinton might have given before he was impeached, twins who feared they were switched as infants and a Korean-born woman who wondered what life might have been like had she not been adopted by an American couple.
At first I thought the topic of alternative universes was a little, well, out there - especially with the opening piece about a phone app that can create alternative universes with the press of a button.
Then I started to think about all the references to alternative universes in film and TV. Did you ever see the movie "Sliding Doors" starring Gwyneth Paltrow? Her character catches a train and her life turns out one way. She misses it and a completely different narrative unfolds. The movie shows us both stories in parallel.
Then there's the end of "La La Land," when Emma Stone's character imagines what her life could have been like had she stayed with Ryan Gosling's character.
And, of course, "Tapestry," my favorite episode of "Star Trek: Next Generation" in which Captain Picard is offered the rare chance to see what his life would have looked like had he altered one key decision.
Come to think of it, "It's a Wonderful Life" offers viewers a look at an alternative universe as well - one in which George Bailey was never born.
This week I discovered a slew of alternate universe websites where people share ideas for creating AU narratives. (I refrained from posting a line explaining the difference between "alternate" and "alternative.")
For example, a character ends up in a world where she never existed but a sibling that never existed in her world is alive and well. Or the Roswell incident results in the successful landing of an alien spacecraft on earth. Surprisingly, everyone lives happily ever after.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
My own life has examples of alternative universe possibilities. Like the woman in the final segment of the podcast, I too was adopted.
What would my life be like if a different couple had adopted me? What if they had a big family? What if they lived in another state? Or, perhaps an even bigger question, what if my birth mother never gave me up for adoption?
I occasionally travel down a similar line of "what if" questions thinking about being double promoted from fourth to sixth grade.
What if I had not arrived at Illinois Wesleyan University in the fall of 1984?
I met my best friend and my husband that fall (although it wasn't clear at first that either relationship would survive - or even exist!).
What would my life had been like if I had been a freshman a year later? Would I have still chosen Wesleyan? Or gone to a different school?
And then there are all the choices I've made since then about where to work and where to live.
These are the kind of questions, I learned during an interview on meditation Monday, that can stress me out and keep me from living in the present. Not good.
As I avoid ruminating on the past and anticipating the future, I also need to be open to the next minute of my life and the uncertainty that it holds.
If that uncertainty includes aliens from Roswell, I'm going to need to up my game when it comes to meditating.
- Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. Readers can email her at [email protected]