Too long to take in the whole film in one sitting, I watched Avengers: Endgamewith my nephews last week over two nights. I watched while working on my computer. It’s a self-defeating talent in which I sometimes indulge: training an ear in one direction and an eye in the other. Self-defeating as I end up completing two jobs in a half-baked fashion. In this case my failed multi-tasking resulted in a poorly edited document (at least it was my own) and a film I didn’t understand (but wasn’t overly bothered about). Given the conversation we had afterwards about the film, I’m not even sure that had I given it my full attention I would have understood it anyway. I felt like I had just stepped off a moving roundabout, my brain was spinning, lurching clumsily in an attempt to follow the children’s take on time-travel, which is what Avengers had to do in order to save the world.
My nephews’ young, pliable brains seemed to grasp it easily while mine felt addled by the idea of a meddled with past, a mangled present, and an altered future. (But how can you alter a future if none of us know what the future holds?) It was all crazy and mind-bending. Undaunted, we continued discussing what-ifs, tracing changed courses, scurrying after distorted permutations. They are too young to wonder which turns in life they have taken that have made the biggest difference, but it got me thinking about my own choices – those I made for myself and those that were made onto me. It’s something that writers love to play with: time travel and all of the themes associated with it. The sliding doors impact of leaving the house a moment earlier or later; the snap decision to take a certain road (either figuratively or literally); the person you meet ‘by chance’ who becomes significant in your life; the bad luck/rejection/illness that turns out to have pushed you in a new and better direction. I’m not talking about choices that you sit down and deliberate over; I mean the little events, the chance happenings that orbit around us every moment. I speak of happenstance, things that might not seem to matter one dot, except occasionally, when they make all the difference. We talk about good choices and bad choices, free will and agency, but sometimes forces beyond our control are thrown into the mix – small push-pull moments that, in retrospect, re-shape our lives, and we have had little to do with it. I think we often credit ourselves with far more of a plan, with more control than we actually possess. I don’t think we need the drama of time travel to help us change course, we can do it all on our own through a combination of our own choices and those unexpected paths that appear.
The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.