A few weeks ago, I went out for a few drinks with one of my best friends. We’ve known each other and been friends for over a decade, and though we don’t live near each other any more (and haven’t for several years), we’ve always made the effort to stay in touch and catch up whenever we can.
A lot has happened to both of us in the last eighteen months or so. I bought my flat in Edinburgh, and adopted Charlie. She has also just bought a house of her own, back in our hometown. As we reminisced over how much has changed, we started talking about the paths we’d taken: have we made the right decisions? Are we where we should be right now? What if things had gone differently?
Throughout my life, almost all of the major direction changes in have been borne through what seemed at the time to be almost entirely inconsequential, minor events. I assume this is the same for many people. Edinburgh for example, the place I now call home. I’ve lived here for over three years in total, and the whole chain of events that brought me here was triggered by an off-hand comment way back in 2011. I had a phone interview with CGI (then Logica) for my industrial placement year. I remember the call well; I was pacing around my old bedroom in the first flat I ever lived in without family, fiddling with the cap of an aftershave bottle that was lying on my windowsill. I can’t sit still during phone calls.
During the small talk and introductions, the interviewer mentioned the Reading office, the headquarters of what was then Logica, and I responded along the lines of “oh, I think Edinburgh is the nearest Logica office to me”. I said it more as a “look, I’ve researched your company” comment than anything else, but the interviewer must have taken that to mean I’d prefer to work in Edinburgh than Reading. Nothing more was said about it, and I didn’t think anything of it until my offer letter arrived, and I had indeed been given a base office of Edinburgh, unlike 90% of other applicants who were sent to Reading.
That was it. One innocent off-hand comment, and my trajectory lurched off in a completely different direction. Where would I be if I hadn’t said that, and been placed in Reading and lived there during my placement year? I love Edinburgh and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else now, but at the time I didn’t really have a preference - I certainly wouldn’t have been disappointed to be moved to Reading for the year. But if I had, I can’t see any reason I would have to move to Edinburgh post-graduation. I wouldn’t have bought my flat (and I wouldn’t be able to afford to buy in the South-East of England). I wouldn’t have Charlie. I wouldn’t have met my Canadian friends who I’m visiting in Vancouver in May, or any of my Edinburgh friends. Would I still be with Sasha? Would I be the same person I am today?
Another major change, much bigger than just where I live, was the death of my father 12 years ago. While that wasn’t a decision or comment that I made myself, I often wonder what could have been different on the night he went out and didn’t return. What if he’d been served in a different order at the bar? What if he’d taken a different route and avoided the altercation he found himself in? I was only 13 when it happened, and didn’t understand a lot of the details at the time, but I do wonder what slight details could have been different enough to change the outcome. And while my mother did a fantastic job raising three kids on her own after the event, how different would I be if my father were still alive? What sort of man would I be? Better? Worse? Can that even be quantified? It’s a path through the maze that I’ll never be able to explore.
While in no way an expert, I subscribe to the many-worlds theory of quantum mechanics, which at its core states that there are an infinite number of universes, and everything that could have happened in the past but didn’t, happened in one or more other universes. There are infinite universes out there where I didn’t mention Edinburgh on that phone call. Infinite universes where it wasn’t my father’s round of drinks. All built from the same blueprint, with every event, however small, branching off into a totally different labyrinthine world for me to navigate. I don’t know where it ends; I don’t even know what I’m looking for.
I am but one possible version of myself. I don’t yet know which off-hand comment or action will lead to the next major change. Maybe I’ve already made it, and it has yet to manifest itself. I guess I’ll only be able to tell in retrospect.
“Rule number one is, don’t sweat the small stuff. Rule number two is, it’s all small stuff.” - Robert Eliot