Youth is so full of potential. We heard it when we were young and we say it to our own kids now- “You can be whatever you want!” So much time in our youth is spent dreaming about all the potential lives we could lead. As a little girl, it all seemed so possible– I could be anything! An astronaut? Why not? Maybe I’ll be in the Olympics one day! The first female president? Or a concert violinist? The possibilities were literally endless. Whatever it was, it would be something exciting and fantastic- because isn’t that what dreams usually are? All of the glamor and none of the mundane. I don’t remember anything about relentless laundry or meal-planning in those fantasies, but now that I think about it, surely astronauts do laundry too?
Wondering ‘What If?’
At this point in my life, it’s safe to say, I will never be an olympic gymnast. It seems I am also not on my way to becoming an astronaut or high powered political figure. With each passing year, all that endless potential drops off a little more. We make decisions. We do exciting things, we do mundane things. Bad things happen to us and some very good things happen to us. We find ourselves in circumstances we never would have chosen. This is the life we’re now living, with all of its good, bad, and ugly. But do you ever still wonder… what if?
This is the pull of the multiverse. That wondering and what-iffing about life’s choices and our current world. The belief that an alternative reality– one where you live in a beach house and write romance novels; or one where you had seven kids instead of two, actually exist out there. If you can imagine it, it’s a reality, running parallel to your current life. It’s as though a massive decision tree began on the day of your birth, a veritable flow chart of all the versions of you that could have been.
The Multiverse Obsession
Our culture is kind of obsessed with the multiverse right now, with three of the top films of the last year playing around with the idea (Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Spider Man: No Way Home, and Everything Everywhere All at Once). It’s also a common theme of contemporary fiction, like a couple of my recent favorites The Midnight Library and Oona Out of Order. As an elder millennial, I think the 1998 movie with Gwyneth Paltrow, Sliding Doors was my first introduction to this idea. Where would I be now if I’d made a different choice at an important juncture of my life? If I’d chosen a different college or career path? Or maybe something much more benign- what if I’d never gotten that haircut, turned left instead of right, ordered pie instead of cake?
The Perfect Life
This thought hits me frequently in the car during school drop-off. I’m usually in workout clothes or pajamas, already exhausted and on my second cup of coffee. I look over at the passing cars and see people headed off to work. They look so… what’s the word? Put together? Professional? In moments like that, with my kids arguing in the back seat and the coffee already cold on my tongue, I wonder, what would that life be like? Maybe I am living a life like that somewhere out there in the multiverse. In that world, I put on cute suits every day and actually fix my hair. Or maybe there’s a version where my husband and I are self-proclaimed “dinks” with tons of disposable income at our fingertips. We have a summer home in the mountains and we grow our own coffee beans or something.
What is it about this idea, that our life has multiple versions, that has so much appeal right now? Some theorize it’s a way of dealing with a difficult reality. Maybe it’s the influence of social media exposing us constantly to the lives of our friends and acquaintances. We compare our own multifaceted life to these highlight reels and wonder if something different would mean something better.
In a lot of ways, the multiverse boils life down to nothing more than a “choose-your-own adventure.” You know the books we grew up with where selecting one right path would lead you to your happily ever after? Make a wrong choice and you end up eaten by a grizzly bear on what you thought was going to be a romantic hike. But it’s ok- just start over and choose something different. Again, again, and again until you manage to achieve the perfect life. You made all the “right” choices and you end up in your happily ever after, your eternal life of bliss.
Hack Your Life?
But, we all know it’s not that simple, right? For one thing, while there are certainly second chances in life, there are no do-overs. You can’t just go back and retry when you think you’ve veered off the “right” path. Oh! And that whole thing about there even being a “right path”? One correct line of decision making that will get you to the promised land? Yeah… turns out that’s not real either. It seems there are a lot of ways to live a great life, but every life comes with the whole package, both the good and the bad. Usually laundry too.
There’s no way to hack your life to perfection. And even if you could- would you?
The truth is, I know that I could never. I wouldn’t trade this life for anything. And I must acknowledge that, as an able-bodied stay-at-home mother of three beautiful children, living in a home of our own, there are so many people out there longing for exactly what I’m wishing I could teleport out of for a little while.
I get to squeeze my babies tight when I tuck them in. I breathe in their heads, their smooth skin, relishing in their twist of blankets and horde of stuffed animals. My husband and I will snuggle ourselves into a cozy bed to watch a show. A friend texts a funny meme and we share a laugh. Tomorrow, I will fold the laundry. It isn’t a glamorous life, but it’s the one I’m living now and it seems it’s the only one I’ve got.
So, I wave goodbye to those other versions of me out there in the multiverse. I blow a kiss and wish them well. I say ‘thank you for the excitement of potential.’ Because isn’t that all they ever were?
This is my real life, and I’m grateful for it.
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