When would you want to travel to?

I nearly missed getting to vote on this year’s crop of Doodles 4 Google created by students around the country. As I was last year, I am impressed with the creativity and talent of these young artists.

I also find it interesting to see the variety of answers they give to this year’s them: “If I could travel in time, I’d visit…” Prehistoric times and frontier America are popular and unsurprising destinations, as are visits to the future. Specific cultures such as ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt, and the Middle Ages are also well represented.

I wonder about the student who would like to visit the Titanic as it sank. What would ten-year-old Grace B think if she actually saw it happening?

I like the reasons Elizabeth C gives for wanting to see the construction of Stonehenge. “I would witness the will to do something thought impossible, something great, the drive to go above and beyond the expected.” I hope she does get to see such will and drive exhibited by people – without having to travel through time to see it.

Barbara M would like to visit the beginning of the French Revolution. That’s one time and place I’d want to steer clear of! But she offers an intriguing reason – “to see if Marie Antoinette was truly as blind to the troubles outside the palace as she is portrayed.”

Naturally I start wondering what time I would want to travel to, if I could. The first thought that comes to mind is the time of Jesus. I know the Bible says “Blessed are those who have not seen [Jesus] but believe.” But I would really like to see him, to hear his teaching from his own mouth and see how he interacted with people.

Of course, it could be that even if time travel existed, it would be very imprecise. Perhaps I would only be able to travel to somewhere in the Middle East, within fifty years of the time of Jesus. The chance of actually encountering him would be very low. Would I still choose that time and place to visit?

Even if I could be assured that my presence in the past or future would not affect the course of history – either the grand scheme of things or my personal history – I don’t think I would want to visit a time of great suffering. With modern communication systems, it is just about impossible to avoid awareness of suffering in other places while being unable to do much of anything about it. But it seems psychologically unhealthy to intentionally visit a time/place of suffering knowing that one cannot do a thing about it.

Certain practical matters might affect my choice. I am sure I could manage without modern plumbing. But I don’t think I would like to spend any length of time on a visit to a period prior to the invention of toilet paper.

And I doubt I would learn much without spending a significant amount of time there. I remember learning, when preparing to go study in Spain the first time, about the stages of adjustment to a new culture. First there is a period when everything seems exciting. Things that seem strange to us are seen as “quaint” rather than “idiotic.” Next there is a period of hostility to this strange, incomprehensible culture.

I’m not sure how long it takes to reach the stage of integration into the culture, but I wonder if it would take even longer in a different era. The differences between the U.S. and Spain today are probably pretty minor compared to the differences between modern U.S. culture and that of Renaissance Italy or ancient Greece. I enjoyed the year I spent in Spain very much, but I suspect that it has improved somewhat in my memories over what I actually experienced.

I think it would probably be difficult for most of us modern Americans to adjust to the slower tempo of life in most times and places in the past. I would be wanting to get out and see things and do things, and instead I would probably need to help with the (backbreaking) chores that have to get done every day, wait for very slow transportation, and avoid asking all kinds of questions that would only arouse suspicion.

At least I think I would get plenty of sleep. And plenty of exercise.

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