If you could travel back in time to change the past in your favor, would you do it? What a question! Of course you would! Who wouldn’t want the right lottery numbers when the jackpot is high, a winning stock tip just before the bull run, or a second chance to ask their crush out properly this time?
When we phrase it in terms of what’s in it for us, free time travel seems like a no-brainer. But what about the other people? What about the consequences of our “adjustments?” If Marvel has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t mess with time without turning the world upside down — not even a little bit.
Perhaps your lottery win takes it away from someone who really needs it, and then that person’s daughter becomes first an orphan, then a politician, and, eventually, a dictator throwing an entire country into misery. What if our sudden insider knowledge of the market triggers an SEC investigation — not into us but into the company — and then what was supposed to be a billion-dollar business employing thousands of people and helping millions goes bankrupt before it can ever flourish? And your crush? Maybe they would go out with you, fall in love with you, even marry you — but if that marriage ends in a bitter divorce seven years later, I doubt either of you will think the time tinkering was worth it in the end.
In Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the stage play set 19 years after the original saga ends, the main characters — the children of Harry, Draco Malfoy, Ron, and Hermione — are forced to grapple with such moral dilemmas in real-time (pun intended). So is everyone’s darling, “The Boy Who Lived” himself.
Faced with a chance to undo the tragedy that has haunted him all his life, Harry must decide: “Am I going to try and stop Voldemort? Or will I just sit here and let the last 26 years unfold exactly as they have?” We, the audience, already know the right answer — and so does Harry’s son: “There is something you could do — to stop him. But you won’t.” And to that, even the most hesitant of friends, Draco Malfoy, can only respond with two words: “That’s heroic.”
Sometimes, the bravest thing we can do is to do nothing at all. To let the past be the past and not rush to undo mistakes which, for all we know, ultimately set us on the right path. The next time someone offers you free time travel, think long and hard before meddling with the clock. Chances are, you need neither superpowers nor magic — only to look ahead and keep walking the road that’s in front of you. That’s heroic, and in the real world, it’s the everyday heroes who save the day.