How many times have I said that there’s no point in regretting things we did or didn’t do? Quite apart from the fact that the moving finger writes and, having writ, moves on, there’s also the obvious fact that it’s impossible to second guess fate. Going back and doing something different would put us on a different road, and there’s no way of knowing where it would lead.
Let me offer a simple fiction. I can’t imagine I’m the first person to use this as an example, but it will do nonetheless.
Once upon a time a man was driving a horse and cart down a street. A little boy ran out into the road and the carter was faced with a split second decision: to steer round the boy or pull the reins hard to arrest the horse. Instinct led him to take the latter option. He pulled back on the reins, the horse reared, the little boy was kicked in the head, and he died of the injury.
The carter was distraught. He loved children, and nothing comes worse than taking a child’s life. Besides, he had a son of his own, about the same age as the boy his action had killed, so he was doubly aware of the horror of what he’d done. He prayed to his God all night, begging for the chance to go back and change things. His God was merciful and sent a ministering angel to answer the man’s plea.
‘Are you sure you want to do this,’ asked the angel. ‘I can send you back in time if you like. You will remember nothing until the critical moment, when I’ll put it into your mind to steer around the boy instead of trying to stop the horse. Is that what you want?’
The carter was beside himself with joy, and said there was nothing he wanted more.
And so he was driving his horse and cart down the street, when a little boy ran out into the road. Something told him to pull on the left rein only, which he did. The cart steered around the boy in the road and there was no accident. The carter breathed a sigh of relief, imagining with horror how he would have felt had the child come to any harm. And they all lived happily ever after.
Well, not quite. The carter was an Austrian Jew, and so his son was also an Austrian Jew. And the little boy who lived was young Adolf Hitler.