By Joe Darby
I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of the time machine. Being a history buff, I think of all the important events that I would love to have witnessed.
Among just a few, right off of the top of my head, I could witness Columbus persuading Ferdinand and Isabella to finance his trip across the ocean, the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, Babe Ruth hitting his 60th home run in 1927 and — oh — the arrival of St. Denis in Natchitoches in1714. I’d have my handy French to English dictionary ready for that last one.
I suppose one could use a time machine for reliving personal experiences also. You could once again enjoy the births of your children, or their first words. And we could go back and undo our most serious mistakes in life. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
But, of course, time machines don’t exist and I don’t suppose they ever will. For one thing there are too many paradoxes that would have to be dealt with. Here’s one that’s always been fascinating to me. Let’s say you set your time machine for the year 1250, in England if you have any English ancestry, for example.
You’re traveling along a road to London when a mean-looking robber jumps out and makes it clear that he’s going to rob and kill you. But you have taken along a pistol for self-protection and you shoot the bandit before he can harm you.
But here’s the paradox. This robber is one of your direct ancestors but he’s young and he hasn’t fathered any children yet. If you kill grandpa, you’ll never be born. But if you’re never born, you can’t go back in time and kill him. And if you can’t go back in time…. Well, you see what I mean. And there’s lots of others just like that one too.
I am fortunate enough to be able to trace my ancestors back to the 1600s. I know most of their names by heart but I have no photos or paintings of any of them beyond my four grandparents. I have mentally put faces on many of them but of course that’s pure guesswork. I have no idea what any of them looked like.
So, going back to meet my ancestors would be a great use of a time machine. I could attend the 1806 wedding of my great-great-great grandparents on Bayou Teche. They were both in their teens at the time. I could watch my daddy playing basketball when he was in high school. I could meet Jonathas Darby, an Englishman who went from France to New Orleans in 1719. I would love to have been able to tell him, shortly after he stepped off of his ship, that by the 21st century he would have hundreds of descendants all over Louisiana.
But no doubt the man would have though I was crazy and would have gotten away from me as quickly as he could have. If someone came to me and told me he was from the future, I’d have a similar reaction.
But we can be connected to the past in one sense. Most of us have some objects that are quite old. If you have great-grandmother’s armoire, for example, you can touch and use that piece of furniture just like your ancestors had done for the past, say, 110 years. If you have a Civil War pistol, when you hold it you are connection to the battles in which it was used. If you have an Indian arrow head somewhere in a drawer, you can hold that object and be connected to its creation hundreds of years ago.
If you have an old coin, you are among the throng of people who have owned it since it was minted, whether in 1930 or 1248. And you are connected to them.
My oldest coin is a silver English penny from the 1240s, minted in the reign of King Henry III. Boy, that goes back a ways. Just think, when Columbus discovered America, it was already 250 years old. When the Declaration of Independence was signed, the coin had been around for 530 years. It’s now approaching 780 years old, and counting.
So, you see, even without a time machine we are connected to the past every day. Think about those connections. And enjoy them. At least until somebody invents a time machine, right?