Monday, May 08, 2006

A Prayer for Infinite Earths

When I was younger and my head was filled with concepts like Earth-1, Earth-2, and various other mirror universes, I concocted my own private mythology—not one I actually believed, but rather one that provided some entertainment and a means of coping with the seemingly all-important travails of adolescence.

It was constructed around the notion that I could travel to parallel universes—but unlike the Flash, who needed his Cosmic Treadmill to perform this trick, I could do it merely through proper concentration. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), my rather extraordinary ability was nevertheless circumscribed: I couldn’t travel to any parallel Earth significantly different from my own, where the Beatles never broke up, or Hitler stuck to painting, or Mr. Spock had a beard. Rather, I could only “shift” onto an Earth with just the slightest differences—where, say, a girl who wouldn’t give me the time of day on “my” Earth instead found me incredibly charming.

It was a selfish, megalomaniacal notion: if I could shift onto another Earth, then I was likely trading places with my doppelganger, and leaving behind my friends and family for almost-but-not-quite-identical versions. Not very nice, though to an adolescent and teenager, a small consideration (and sometimes even a desirable one).

Like many myths, mine gradually grew more sophisticated. If I anticipated events enough in advance, I could steer myself into the desired universe. But the anticipation was essential—and here again, being a pessimist and worrier, I had constructed an ideal mythology for myself. Bad things only tended to happen if I had lost myself in the moment, failing to spend time worrying about them and then shifting out of harm’s way. Viewed in that light, the idea was perhaps less selfish (though just as megalomaniacal); perhaps I wasn’t so much shifting myself out of bad situations as much as I was steering myself and my Earth toward my preferred outcomes. (It has potential, I think, for a story; parallel universes have been explored again and again, but not so much on that kind of micro level. If I’m mistaken, let me know.)

I later learned it was a near-universal form of magical thinking, albeit filtered through comic book superhero universes. And, in a way, a form of prayer.

If I’d known more about the Many-Worlds Interpretation, the idea might have become still more sophisticated, but after I time I forgot about my little musings. When tragedy strikes, however, one turns to mythologies both shared and personal. It all came back shortly after 9/11. I had started a new job just days before, making a great deal more money than I had been, and thus I was so pleased with myself and my new situation that I had temporarily neglected my worrying. Then, once it happened, I was stuck in this reality. The best I could do was shift myself into a universe where nothing worse happened.

Then my son Logan was born. Within minutes of his birth I realized something was very wrong, and by the end of the day we learned that he had several heart complications, the primary one being Transposition of the Great Vessels, meaning that his aorta and pulmonary valve were reversed.

Certainly there are those who have had it much worse than we have—after all, Logan is alive, seems to be slowly progressing, and we have hope that he will be able to live a full and productive life. But such an experience with a newborn is still a special horror.

It was not a good first night. Nurses would hourly check my wife’s vital signs, so if I had actually fallen asleep I would wake up and everything would hit me.

I felt totally helpless. And guilty. How had I contributed to this happening? Was it some kind of karma, some sort of punishment for doing something wrong, or not doing something right, or just that I was due for something bad to happen?

Lying there, half delirious, I desperately wished I would go to sleep, wake up, and it would all have been some terrible dream.

And then at some point I remembered my old mythology. Maybe I just hadn’t worried enough. I’d worried plenty, of course (I can’t help it)—but really only about having a new addition to the family, how we would manage it with both of us working, how my older son would deal with no longer being the center of attention. I’d taken Logan’s health too much for granted—and that’s what got me.

So now I spend a lot of time revisiting those old silly notions. If the Many-Worlds Interpretation is true, then there exists (or will exist—I don’t pretend to fully grasp it) a universe in which Logan’s heart develops in just the right way, and his aorta and pulmonary valve will be able to be transposed, and he will have a mostly normal heart and live a more or less normal life.

Since I can’t do much else regarding his little body right now, I’m busy trying to steer reality in that direction.


Anonymous FL Mom said...

Hi! Got here from Vodkapundit. If you don't mind, I just wanted to give you some encouragement. Our friends have a little girl who was also born with a heart defect, and although it wasn't as severe as what Logan has, she's 1-1/2 years old now and completely healthy & happy. The fading scar on her chest is the only obvious reminder of those first harrowing weeks of her life.

Bless you all.

p.s. My b-day is also April 26. Logan & I are birthday twins! :)

12:02 PM  
Anonymous scott said...

I have kind of the opposite borderline OCD magical thinking idea. I have this feeling that if I can imagine something terrible happening, and further if I DO visualize the terrible thing, then it WILL happen unless I take steps to prevent it. For instance, if I don't feel like going in to check on the kids sleeping, risking waking them up, I sometimes get a flash of them tangled in their bedclothes, or trapped between the bars of the crib, suffocating. Now that's standard parental morbidity, it comes with the territory, but once I visualize that, I HAVE to go in and check, or I'm sure it'll happen. Furthermore, I'll be plagued with guilt forever for not having gone in, having had the premonition. The fact that the kids have always been all right in no way diminishes this feeling.

It's the same if I imagine that the front door didn't lock properly as I'm on my way upstairs to bed. I KNOW I locked it, and yet I still have to go back down and check again, because if I don't, my magical thinking will ensure an unlocked door and a home invasion. I've checked the door as many as 3 times in a given night like that. It's worrying.

9:42 AM  
Blogger cheesemeister said...

I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who's thought this way. I too have my own "parallel universes." Problem is, since I dwell in all of them, they're all equally nuts!

3:07 AM  

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