Inspection- If/Then and Now
Orlando, Trump, Hillary, Bernie… anyone else overwhelmed, while also being more than a tad tired of it all? It’s all so predictable: radicalized anti-gay loner shoots up club, Obama speaks, “He’s going to take our guns!” Trump tweets how right he was. Another guy caught with guns heading towards a club is stopped… little said about who he is, or why.
Let’s take a break! Hey, as with most editions of Inspection, I will still touch upon, “What’s Goin On,” to quote Marvin.
Last Sunday, on the way the Nashville off Broadway performance of If/Then, Millie and I had a flat tire. Hot, scorching sun, thick humidity; luckily we found some shade.
Me; with my right arm damaged by surgery and barely workable…
Her; without the strength to jack…
Together, somehow, we managed to change the tire, take quick showers at the gym, and arrive on time.
So many minor decisions led up to that sequence of events.
In case you’re unfamiliar, the musical If/Then starts with Elizabeth, having just left a dying marriage in Phoenix, arriving back in her native NYC. Then what may have seemed at first to be a less significant choice ends up making major changes in her life. The musical lets the results of both choices play out, and my wife and I even agreed there was at least a third alternate timeline, maybe four.
How many decisions have there been in our lives where each and every one of us may have asked after, “But what if?”
She meets and falls in love with a soldier who goes back to war after they have children.
She becomes a childless, lonely, business woman.
She gets pregnant and has an abortion.
She becomes a single mother with a gay couple helping her.
All this revolves around a choice: “going with Lukas” to a protest or, “stay here with Kate.” No option she chooses is perfect. One leads to angst between former lovers, years after, when he finds out she had an abortion. Another choice left few dry eyes in the audience.
The concept is grand, though the execution is just a tad flawed. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which reality you’re watching. There’s a lot of choreography: sometimes too much… detracting from the intensity of the lyrics, the emotion of the moment. The music is strong, well written, but fails to correct either flaw: leaving a little too much dance-driven distraction, and a confused audience trying to figure out which timeline is which.
Neither is a fatal flaw in any sense… far from it.
Like 9/11, Pearl Harbor, 2000, 2008, once again we have reached a split in time. Time is always splitting, to be honest, as If/Then reveals: minor decisions might make major changes. But major decisions are what we usually think of. Could a President Gore administration have somehow escaped 9/11, or made it worse? Maybe just some different: equally horrifying, result?
Careful how you answer that: we all judge these things by what we think we know now. But what we know now rarely indicates everything that may alter a timeline once we’ve taken a different path. Some things are obvious and unlikely to change, like there would have been those who would have declared Bush would have been better at avoiding 9/11, even if only one tower fell. Certainly there would have been the same critique if somehow the Bush administration had saved all but one tower.
These are big decisions. But minor decisions may make as many major changes as big decisions. How many decided not to go to that club in Orlando that night? What if someone hadn’t seen a second guy with guns headed to create murder and mayhem? If certain people at the club had had guns would it have made it worse… better?
What if John Parker hadn’t left his post, or a better guard had been chosen, the night of Lincoln’s assassination? What if the Secret Service had convinced Kennedy to put the convertible top up in Dallas? Seemingly minor decisions, yes, but crucial when it came to complicating a shooter’s aim, or an assassin’s plans.
So much goes into the answer to any of these questions anyone who claims they absolutely know is either naive, or playing the role of fool.
Ah, yes, but it certainly can be fun and entertaining to guess. So many books have been written with this theme, one of my favorite sub genres. What if Lindy, who was thinking of running, won against FDR and kept us out of WWII? (The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth )… President Joe Kennedy meets an aging Hitler in the early 60s. (Fatherland, by Robert Harris). The movie The Butterfly Effect has multiple endings, many attempts to fix time; showing just how hard it may be. About Time is a sweet/bitter story of a boy who changes time to find the love of his life. My own book, Autocide offers a sub plot where Joe Biden leaves and, after Obama was assassinated, President Hillary loses the next campaign. A car company benefits from these changes.
But even though I have written speculative, time altering, history, I must admit I have little faith in such predictions. As I have argued so many times: we really can’t know. We assume influences in our timeline would stay the same, but that’s beyond doubtful. Small changes that seem minor can sheer us off in unexpected directions.
In the end If/Then may offer a cheat, in one sense. The most loving life Elizabeth had, one lost in tragedy, is offered to another version of herself who avoided that timeline when she went with Lukas to the protest. I suspect such “happy” second chances are rare, for one reason because we never knew what we missed. The logic we used that headed us off down a different path may still remain and keep us from what might have been. Time itself, due to so much happening, can close doors rather firmly.
The irony this election year is whichever of the two major party candidates might win may win mostly because of who they are running against. And the one thing no one’s talking about, no matter who wins, is none of this bodes well for the winner or the loser… unless they become a tyrant.
Impossible? After all the changes post the 2000 election I have learned not to say that. Just when we think we know what’s next… the unexpected occurs.
Like Elizabeth’s small decision, what too many people think of as less significant: their vote, really isn’t insignificant at all. Aside from very close elections, often we don’t realize just how much our very presence influences people. And there’s a lot of time between now and November. That factor alone creates many changes, and changes minds. Time itself is a variable that may make all the difference.
But come November, once again, we will have a choice: show up and have as much influence as we can, or let whatever might happen, happen. We are now, and will be, like Elizabeth who showed up at a protest and led a different life from when she decided to stay with Kate.
Either way, may the choices made be the best they can be, for what follows may not be all we expect. Personally, though there were problems with her choice, as there usually are with any choice, I will go with Lukas. I am foolish enough to think I can make a difference, no matter how slight.
This November, I ask you only do one thing. Do whatever you think is best.
…somewhere I’m the president with plans that never fail
And somewhere I’m a rebel king
And somewhere I’m in jail
I didn’t chase my glory days long after they were done
I found myself a woman or a man and had a son
Some other me is a rock star
Some other me is still cool
Some other me does not feel like some tired old fool
And you and I are strangers, or we’re lovers, or we’re not
The other mes live with what they’ve got
Look down each road left untaken
Trace every turn and twist
The lives that we just let go by
The dreams we might have missed
Now we’re old enough to know that
One road ends where one begins
The moment where the “what might bes”
Turn into “might have beens”
-Some Other Me, from If/Then
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 40 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks, and into the unseen cracks and crevasses, that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
all right reserved