I have always been fascinated by the concept of traveling in time even if I find it impossible to comprehend how such a thing might be possible. I love TV shows (remember The Time Tunnel?), short stories and novels which are based on the idea of time travel and am fascinated by the way each author handles the ramifications of even the slightest change in history.
So, I couldn’t wait to buy the latest installment in time travel novels: 11/22;/63 by Stephen King. The book is about a man who travels back in time to try to stop the terrible event in Dallas, Texas on that day. The Kennedy assassination has always been a subject of great interest for me and I have dozens of books and videos concerning the horrible moment in our history. Add to that the fact that I love many of Stephen King’s books – usually the books which are less based on “horror” such as The Green Mile- and I bought the book the minute it hit the shelves.
That was 2 days ago and I am already halfway through this 700 plus page book. King’s books can be quick reading but for the first time in many years, I found myself sitting at the kitchen table at 3:00 a.m. reading another chapter or two of a new book.
I won’t ruin the story for you but one of the ideas that keeps resurfacing in the book is that the past is stubborn and doesn’t want to be changed. On numerous occasions, the time traveler finds obstacles which he interprets as being proof of this fact. He struggles to continue on with his quest despite this and while I don’t know yet if he succeeds (and I wouldn’t tell you if I did), it is fascinating that King presents the idea that the past wants to hold onto its place in our consciousness the way that it is, not the way that we want it to be.
As we read the Torah this week and especially when we read stories that are difficult- such as the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael, the destruction of Sodom and Amora and the binding of Isaac- we often wish we could change the story so that it would be a bit more palatable. But, the past will not give itself up so easily. We can do midrash. We can interpret. We can question and challenge but we can’t travel back in time and change the stories. They are part of our past and we need to deal with them as they are.
And, what is true of the stories of our tradition is true of our lives as well. Unless and until someone figures out how to change the past- and I do not believe that they ever will nor should- we need to work with who we are and where we have been and work on changing the present and the future.