I’ve been thinking about this line from an old gospel song: “There’s nothing to go back to.” The song is “I’m Too Near Home (To Turn Back Now).” It’s about keeping your eyes on heaven. The chorus says,
I’m too near home with my Lord, too near heaven’s reward
I am not returning to sin I’ve made my vow
There is nothing to go back to
Praise the Lord, sweet heaven’s in view
I’m too near my heavenly home to turn back now.
So a life of sin is the nothing to which the singer can’t go back. Besides, heaven’s in view, so it’s best to keep looking forward.
I say “Amen” to that, but it’s not the way my mind is using that line these days. Instead, I keep thinking about the desire to “go back” that seems to be driving so many American voters during this presidential election cycle (and that seems to drive so many people in the way they view the world). They want to “go back” to a time when, in their view, America was stronger, greater, and better than it is now.
The problem with that kind of thinking is there’s nothing to go back to.
And if all you want to do—and all you want the nation and the world to do—is to go back to the way things used to be, then there’s nowhere to go. When it comes to time, we aren’t allowed to go backward. Therefore, there’s no point in looking back, and there’s really no point in pining for what’s back there.
I once had a church member who was perpetually frustrated. I finally figured out that he was never going to be happy until it was 1955 again. Therefore, he was never going to be happy. 1955, like every other past year, is gone for good.
As best I can understand from my reading of Scientific American, parallel universes—perhaps an infinite number of them—exist. My Good Wife and I have been binge-watching the excellent television program Fringe lately, and travel between such worlds is an important part of the show’s fascinating plot. It can’t be done, though. At least it can’t be done yet. At least it can’t be done as far as I know. Sometimes, though, when I get a really strong sense of déjà vu . . . . Nah, we’ll stick with it can’t be done.
The same goes for time travel. I’m as intrigued with time travel as the next nerd. It’s theoretically possible, but practically unlikely, unless somebody comes from the future to show us how to do it, which would be pretty ironic. Whether it’s H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine, that old cheesy television show Time Tunnel, or Stephen King’s 11/22/63, I’m a sucker for a good—or a bad—time travel story.
For now, though, the only time travel we can do is in fiction.
I understand people being anxious. Change brings anxiety, and things are changing rapidly and irrevocably. The world is becoming increasingly complex. The nation is becoming increasingly diverse. Our evolving technology makes it simultaneously possible to do greater good and greater harm than we’ve ever done before. And because of instantaneous communication (I’m looking at you, Twitter), we not only know about what happens as soon as it happens, but we also have 4,365 interpretations of it instantly available, including those that put the worst possible spin on it.
We have options as to how we’re going to handle the situation we’re in. But going back isn’t one of them. We must live in the present and we can live toward the future, but we can’t live in the past.
So, when you’re discussing the problems of the world and you hear the words “I remember when . . .” or "I think we should go back to . . ." coming out of your mouth, just hush. Nothing you’re about to say is going to do any good.
We can’t go back. We must find ways to embrace the present and to move into the future.
If we’re going to make it, we really have no choice. But let’s not look at it that way. Let’s see it as the great opportunity it is. We still have the chance to get together, to work together, and to try together to make this world a better home for all of us.
Let’s not waste our time and our energy in the pointless, fruitless endeavor of wanting things to be like they used to be.
There’s nothing to go back to.
But there’s plenty to go forward toward . . .