If you could go into the past and tell yourself something to change the future, would you? Should you?
I recently discovered an episode of the “Twilight Zone” that deals with that very issue. It’s called “Walking Distance“, and the focus is on Martin Sloan, an advertising executive who stops to get his car serviced, only to realize that his hometown — named Homewood — is 1.5 miles away. He decides to walk there, and when he arrives, he discovers that it’s just like when he was growing up. But it quickly dawns on him that it actually IS when he was growing up — as in, he’s gone back in time by 30 years!
Once the confusion wears off, Martin finds the child version of himself (we’ll call these Martins “Lil Martin” and “Big Martin” for the sake of clarity). Big Martin tries to tell Lil Martin to stay young and enjoy childhood, because his life as a working adult is awful. But Lil Martin isn’t interested and is actually creeped out by the whole thing, as are his parents. It appears there’s room for only one version of Martin in Homewood.
I won’t give away the ending, since there are some special twists, but the essence is: You can’t relive your childhood. There’s an especially profound conversation that takes place between Big Martin and his dad, who, thanks to the wrinkle in time, is about his age:
DAD: Martin, is it so bad where you’re from?
BIG MARTIN: I thought so, Pop. I’ve been living on a dead run, and I was tired. And one day I knew I had to come back here. I had to come back and get on the merry-go-round, and eat cotton candy, and listen to a band concert. I had to stop and breathe, and close my eyes and smell, and listen.
DAD: I guess we all want that. Maybe when you go back, Martin, you’ll find that there are merry-go-rounds and band concerts where you are. Maybe you haven’t been looking in the right place. You’ve been looking behind you, Martin. Try looking ahead.
It’s incredible advice: Try looking ahead. It’s natural to want to revisit happier times and to feel like things haven’t changed. And don’t we all wish we could go to the past and do things a little differently? But that’s what makes “Walking Distance” great: It reminds us that we can’t go into the past, and the only way to feel better and happier about ourselves is to focus on improving how we are now.