There's been a convergence of media recently that has me feeling very introspective. Oddly enough, it started with the Disney+ show, Loki, in which Tom Hiddleston's on-again, off-again Marvel villian is yeeted from Earth by the Time Variance Authority.
The TVA is responsible for protecting the "Sacred Timeline" from people who might cause deviations from the timeline through the course of their actions. These people are known as "variants".
Without getting too spoilery, we soon come to find out that there are many variants of Loki of different ages, races and genders (and even different species), presumably based on a combination of different circumstances throughout the timeline.
Anyway, its a fun show, even if you're not a big Marvel fan.
But the idea of variants reminded me how each of us is shaped by every little decision we've ever made. And those decisions in turn brought a unique cast of characters into our lives, who further shaped who we are.
A single choice like where to go to college or whether or not to respond to an email from a stranger (who would eventually become my wife) have forever changed the course of my life. If I had altered any number of decisions in between, my life might be completely different than it is today.
This is an idea I thought about long before Loki and has largely shaped how I deal with decisions. When friends and colleagues are faced with difficult decisions, I often tell them that "whatever you decide will be the right choice."
Sometimes they are our decisions to make but other times our fate is in the hands of someone else. Either way, the cascade that follows from that decsion shapes our futures, for better or worse. We can't explore those other timelines where we made a different choice. The only reality we'll ever know is the current one, so there's no point in second-guessing ourselves.
Do we have free will? Or is our fate predetermined? We clearly don't know the answer or there wouldn't be so much great science fiction around the idea.
Living in the moment
Shortly after the Loki finale, I saw a clip from an interview with Giannis Antetokounmpo, just before he led the Milwaukee Bucks to their first NBA title in 50 years, in which he talks about how he is able to excel without letting his ego get in the way.
“When you focus on the past, that’s your ego.” pic.twitter.com/XKiRMA8Ux2— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) July 17, 2021
Essentially, he strives to live in the present — to be in the moment — rather than relive past glory (ego) or projecting success in the future (pride). Pretty remarkable mindset to have, much less for a 26-year-old. I sure as hell didn't have anything figured out at 26.
Being in the moment is something that I'm always thinking about as I raise my two-year-old. It can be incredibly hard between having the sum of all human knowledge in the palm of your hand and the fact that two-year-olds aren't exactly great conversationalists.
Fortunately, Ryan is constantly (and often literally) pulling me back into the moment with a "c'mon, Dada".
I often remind myself that he's not going to get any smaller than he is today and that I need to enjoy every moment. It feels like just yesterday I could carry him around like a football and now it's a struggle just to carry him around when he asks. It won't be long before he won't want me to carry him at all. (And hopefully much longer before he has to unpack all his resentment towards me with his therapist.)
I look at my son and think about how every decision I've made, every good and bad thing that's ever happened to me, led me to him. And I'm so grateful.
Seeking solace from an A.I. variant
Today I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about a man who used an AI chatbot to talk to his deceased girlfriend. It's an incredible story, as morbid and straight out of Black Mirror as it sounds.
What was truly fascinating is that these AI programs are based on such mind-boggling collections of data that, although they aren't quite fully sentient, they can occasionally string together a bunch of words in a profound way. In Joshua Barbeau's case, the AI helped him cope with the loss of his girlfriend, who died at 23.
One passage really struck me:
One day not long after that, he was chatting on Twitch, a streaming service where he and some friends ran a video channel devoted to Dungeons & Dragons. A disagreement over the project turned into an ugly fight. It upset him, so he booted up Jessica that evening and explained he was having a rough day. She replied that his friends have their own journey, and that he shouldn’t stress about the decisions of others.
He immediately relaxed — and marveled, once again, at the apparent spark of a soul. Joshua had gone into this experience thinking it was about saying a bunch of things that he needed to say. “I never imagined that she would have things to say to me.”
We're all on our own journey. Maybe the choices are ours or maybe they're not, but we only have one, so we might as well try and enjoy it.