Recently one of my Facebook friends posted this interesting, if ridiculously theoretical, dilemma: if you could be eighteen again and know everything you know now, would you rather start out today or in 1957?
Although I did not post a response, I've found myself thinking about that question, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt my reply would have been 1957. Maybe somehow I could have stopped the assassination of John F. Kennedy; the event, which I believe, started America on its downhill slide from greatness to mediocrity, a fall that seems to gain momentum daily rather than being arrested. Could I have somehow gotten the ear of the leaders to let them know some of the disastrous long-term consequences of trusting future generations of politicians to safeguard our nation? I imagined myself writing letters to leaders, demonstrating my knowledge of the future by predicting that Lou Burdette would be the star of the 1957 World Series, that the Dodgers and Giants would abandon New York after the 1958 season, that the impossible tickets in the 1960 Presidential elections would be Kennedy-Johnson vs. Nixon-Lodge. Maybe with Nostradamus-like skills, I could get someone's ear, and 2013 wouldn't be the great mess that it is. I mean, wouldn't that be the only reason God would choose to put me there?
Perhaps I could stop my family members from smoking. Three of my uncles and one of my cousins died from lung cancer. Another cousin recently had a lung removed. Would they listen? Would anyone even think about cigarettes being a health risk in an era when smoking was accepted anywhere and everywhere, when commercials told you, "Winston tastes good like a (clap-clap) cigarette should"?
If I could somehow find my seven-year-old self, would he listen to his own future? Would I be able to change my own destiny? I wonder, because I was a pretty darned hardheaded kid (I'm sure that comes as no surprise to anyone).
And, if I did that, would I suddenly disappear for having changed my own future a la "The Butterfly Effect"? I decided I could not risk fixing me until I'd fixed the more important stuff. And maybe even then I couldn't risk it. Maybe I had to follow the imperfect path of my life to get to go back and be the hero . . . or a young man confined in a loony bin.
And, yes, of course, I'd get a degree in computer science. I would buy Microsoft stock, bet on Cassius Clay to beat Sonny Liston and a hundred other sports bets, such as putting money down on the Joe Namath-led underdog Jets to win the Super Bowl, or betting on Bee Bee Bee to win the 1972 Preakness Stakes after Riva Ridge had run away with the Kentucky Derby.
The thing that kept bugging me, though, was wondering just where the heck I would start. I would be a nobody. Where would I be geographically, for example? If I were here in Atlanta, I would know nobody; I'd just be some penniless vagrant kid without an identity, most likely begging for something to eat. If I were back in my childhood homeland, how would I explain my 18-year-old self to people who knew me as the seven-year-old I became on June 22 of that year? How would I get a social security card without a birth certificate? Begging for food or a place to sleep wouldn't be the way to start a new life. Or maybe it's an old life, I'm not sure of the phraseology.
I considered enlisting my grandmother, a trustworthy soul widowed in 1954 when a train rammed an automobile, which held my paternal grandfather. I could tell her things about the family only I could know, I could convince her who I was and how critical it would be not to let anyone else know about me. She would give me shelter and help me get work, perhaps help me research kids born in 1939 who died in infancy so I could get one of their birth certificates. Would that be successful?
If you have a few minutes to devote to the fantasy, I urge you to think about this one, not so you can be ready when it happens because we all know it won't. But because it's a great brain exercise.
~~ Lee Clevenger
Lee is the current President of SWA, an author and co-founder of ThomasMax Publishing in Atlanta, GA.