“If I could turn back time, if I could find a way.” Can you hear Cher? It really is a fine ideal, looking back and wanting to have been a better person. Genuinely feeling sorrow for being an agent of pain is a high virtue. Many times, apologizing to those we’ve hurt is a sign of personal maturity. I love being able to walk down the street and know there isn’t anyone I’d like to duck away from because of shame or guilt over my past actions. There is a sense of freedom that comes with owning up to mistakes. Hell yeah, there may be some I’m not aware of, but that’s a different issue.
Turn Back Time also asks for a current benefit for doing things better in the past. She wants to get her love back. She believes that, if only she had behaved differently, she would have had a different outcome. In fact, her present would be different because she’d still have her lover and be oh so gloriously happy now.
It’s this second set of lyrics that lead me to believe that some ways of looking back are a colossal waste of time. It can be an unhealthy practice to think, “If only I had done/not done this or that, I would now have this or that.” Shoulda, woulda, coulda. Oh God, I know our actions have consequences, and some of them reverberate for years. What we do matters, of course. But the “What if?” game can also lead us down a false road if we’re not careful. I like to play this game in reverse if I know I’m getting caught up in a fantastical reimagining of the past. For instance, maybe Cher could have done all the right stuff in the relationship she sings about, but then the dude…embezzles money from his rich, CEO grandmother and goes to jail for twenty years? Well damn, would she still sing it the same way? The truth is, we don’t really know how things would turn out.
Another thing that hits me when I get stuck in a past sorrow is the attempt to whitewash my present actions. Meaning, what am I doing today? Can I put my phone down when the teen needs to talk? Can I think before I respond in defense from a friend’s words? Can I love myself enough not to get caught up in an unhealthy relationship? I’d rather put it on Cher than discuss my weaknesses! Does she have a new love that she is more careful with, in the present? Did she learn anything from her past mistakes?
Socrates is famous for saying, “The unexamined life is not a life worth living.” Of course I agree, I tend to do it regularly. But I’d hate to do it at the expense of the actual living in the present. The day to day making choices of what type of person I’d like to be. The fact is the past cannot be changed, but we can.