"Mysterious thing, time. Powerful, and when meddled with, dangerous." —Albus Dumbledore
As Leon’s December Writing Challenge co-editor, I’ve enjoyed reading all of this year’s submissions, a rich mixture of wishes not to disturb the lessons life teaches, a careful sprinkling of re-dos, a few winning lottery numbers, and a healthy set of Back to the Future references. But as much as Marty and the Professor may have beckoned so many to consider the potential benefits and risks of time travel, I felt they more than received their due respects. Instead, as my family re-watches the Harry Potter films each Yuletide, I think of Harry, and of Hermione Granger’s Time-Turner.
Not to debate the technicalities of the original Time-Turner’s five-hour travel limitation, nor the potential added benefits of “True” Time-Turners or anything involving the Malfoys, my basic takeaway from the story was this: if’n you could travel through time, you’d end up with exactly the same result when you returned. Whether you credit Niven or Novikov, you can’t do anything to the past that hasn’t already happened.
I’m not sure a spoiler warning is necessary for a 14-year-old movie, but when Harry realizes that his father isn’t coming to cast a Patronus – and that in fact, he’s his only [and best] hope – he’s able to be exactly who he’s always been, and who he would always be.
Image 1: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry’s charm wards off an army of Dementors, and saves his godfather and himself. He was who he needed to be – he didn’t need anyone more than himself in that critical moment. And when the moment came, he rose to the occasion. Every single time I watch that scene, I cry for the beauty of it.
Time travel wasn’t the solution to Harry’s problem – he was. It only gave him the perspective to realize what he needed to do. It didn’t change it, because he’d already done it.
In many ways, the travel we each do through time – the travel that brings us to the present – offers us all the same perspective. We are who we are because of the lives we’ve led, the things we’ve done, and the things we’ve left undone.
So, knowing I couldn’t change the past in putting a Time-Turner around my neck to visit my past self, what might I tell her? Nothing I’d say would cheapen the gifts of my hard-won lessons. I couldn’t undo great mistakes and rob myself of the wisdom they brought, nor make minor changes that would rewrite entire chapters of my life.
If anything, I’d want to give her a hug, and tell her that everything is turning out precisely as it should – complete with imperfections, disappointments, and tragedy, yes, but also with deep happiness, joy, and hope. I’d want to encourage her that even when all seemed lost, when every choice she thought would lead towards the life she desperately wanted [or thought she did] only led to more pain, frustration, and shame, that a better future was still out there. I’d tell her that even when everything seemed lost, and help didn’t seem to be coming, to hang on, and just keep going.
I think of Harry and Hermione waiting in the forest, Harry absolutely certain that his father would save Sirius and himself, growing more agitated and panicked that help wasn’t coming, that hope was fading. I’d like to think Current Me would be like Hermione to Past Me’s Harry, and reminding him that he’s enough – that I am enough. That I can take care of myself, that I can get through the darkest night, that I’m stronger than I think I am.
In all the stories our writers shared with this year’s challenge, I was impressed with the number of us who focused on this very lesson. No, we can’t undo the past, and in spite of perhaps even some very dark days, we really wouldn’t want to do so. We recognize the role our challenges play in bringing us to where we are in life. We benefit from the well-timed reminder that life will get better, and from those around us who believe in us as much as we should believe in ourselves.
And as we have traveled through time to meet ourselves today, I like to think our past selves would be pretty impressed by how we’ve all turned out. By how we’ve met obstacles both big and small, celebrated wins, learned from losses, and how we cherish our families, friends, and the good things in life, however we see them. And as we head into a new year – into the very future itself – I hope we all choose to encourage ourselves to be strong, to believe in ourselves, and to remember that we are enough.