I didn’t plan to have an imaginary conversation with one of my younger selves when I went to the Rec Center this morning with my husband. We just wanted to get in a quick workout before the facility closed early for Christmas Eve. While he walked over to the rowing machine in the corner, I went upstairs to run around the indoor track.
As usual, the track had both runners and walkers. I got into the outside lane designated for runners and settled into a good comfortable pace, listening to the music from the wall speakers. The radio was set to a station playing a mix of new songs and oldies. When a song from the 1980s came on, it triggered a memory of running around the same track about nine or ten years ago, listening to a different ’80s song called “Invincible” by Pat Benatar—a fight song in which life is a struggle to survive in a world of enemies.
Only one line came clearly to mind: “We’ve got the right to be angry.” Much more vividly than the lyrics, I remembered the emotional content of the song and how much it resonated with my younger self. Anger, stand and fight, do or die.
The culture is full of such messages, of course. Angry, dramatic life-or-death struggles get a lot more attention than calmly going about one’s business. In a fast-paced world where we are constantly surrounded by media, it can be harder to distance ourselves from the drama than it was in ancient times, when villagers sat around the fire on a dark winter night while a bard spoke of heroes and dragons.
My younger self didn’t seem to understand that even though anger and drama can make us feel stronger, after a while they get seriously unhealthy. Maybe we have the right to do something unhealthy, but that’s kind of beside the point. The Rec Center seemed like as good a place as any to set Younger-Me straight, since I still had plenty more laps around the track to go.
“It’s just a song,” I told her, imagining that the words in my thoughts echoed from my time to hers. “Real life doesn’t always have to be a fight, you know. Chill.”
She didn’t give me any response, but the memory of her strong emotions when she heard the song faded until I couldn’t feel them anymore. Something in that recollection shifted, settling into a different place in my mind—or perhaps a different category, rather like stripping a tag or category off an archived blog post and replacing it with another one.
Because the past largely consists of what we tell ourselves about it, my imaginary conversation left me feeling as if I had gone back and changed the timeline to give myself a healthier worldview in the past, even if I didn’t literally do so. Time-travel mission accomplished!