Parallel Universes

While I was on holiday in Venice, or rather, while I was in the aeroplane on my way to Venice, I was thinking about how life is compartmentalised. It is split into various boxes and, while sometimes these boxes sit next to each other, quite often, the contents never cross the barrier into the next one 

We have our work life, our home life. These days we often have an on-line life. More often than not, these are entirely separate, with the people that we know and love in one “life” never interacting with those in another “life”.

Take my life, for instance.

I have worked for my current firm for nearly seven years. I think that my wife has met my work colleagues once in that time. She has worked at the same place for ten years and I have never met any of hers. Now, apart from having a spouse who works in a particular organisation, I have nothing in common with her work colleagues, nor she with mine. Only on very rare occasions, it seems to me, do two worlds collide. 

It’s as if there really are our own parallel universes, between which we can jump, but others can’t. I jump into a parallel universe the moment I get into my car to go to work and jump back into the first one when getting out of it at the end of the day. Occupants of the “home” universe can’t follow me into my “work” universe, nor can I follow them into theirs. Yet, for most of our lives we share the same universe. The big question, from this mindless wander, is “Which of these universes is the real one?” Does it really mater?

Much depends upon how you see yourself. Are you a “Live to work” or a “Work to live” person? Whichever is the more important or dominant aspect of your life will tend to be the universe which you inhabit the most.  I would put myself firmly into the “Work to live” box, these days. (Have I ever been in any other?)

Occasionally, if we let them, the universes get fuzzy at the edges. I have blogged earlier about prepping to go on leave and on taking a Blackberry or iPhone on holiday to keep up with emails and the odd voicemail while away from the office. We allow the “work” and the “home” universes to overlap for a short time, before putting them back in their proper place.

None of this matters particularly, of course, unless one prefers being in one universe rather than another. Sometimes, we may want to be in an alternative, but circumstances, life or work prevent us from being able to. We have to learn to live within those universes that we have created for ourselves and over which we have some element control. No matter how much we might wish to be able to stay in one, or move to another, there are very few of us that have the privilege of being able to choose our universes for ourselves.

This is a great pity, really. We are only here once and we only pass this way once. How much better would it be if we could all choose the life we really wanted, rather than the life that we have?

This makes me sound dissatisfied with the life I have, which is certainly not the case. I have a good life. I have a loving family and good friends. I have a good and interesting job that pays the bills and allows me to take weeks in Venice every now and again. I have my cancer, but there are some very clever people looking after me the best that they can on a personal basis and more clever people trying to find better tools for them to use to help me. There are plenty of people who don’t have any of these things. But that doesn’t stop me thinking that having a choice about, for example, needing to go to work, might open up whole new worlds of possibilities for us all.

Perhaps what I really want is to win the lottery…

One thought on “Parallel Universes”

  1. Point well taken. I often perceive life as going from one room to the next. I leave the work-room and enter the family room, and when I go to bed, I go to my private-me room. All of them are interconnected by nothing else than by myself, a sort of unrelated contiguity. Here a passage from Pascal Mercier’s novel Nighttrain to Lisbon, which puts the idea we seem to share so wonderfully:

    It was in Coimbra, on the hard bench of the auditory, when it dawned on my: I cannot debark. I cannot change the tracks and the direction. I don’t determine the speed. I don’t see the locomotive and cannot recognize who is driving it and if the pilot seems trustworthy. I don’t know if he reads the signals correctly and recognizes if the course is set wrongly. I cannot change the compartment. I see people walking along the aisle and think: maybe their compartments look completely different to mine. But I cannot go there and check, the conductor, who I’ve never seen and will never see, has locked and sealed the compartment’s door. I open the window, lean out and I see that they all do the same. The train makes a faint curb. The last wagons are still in the tunnel and the first just enter it. Maybe the train proceeds in a loop, over and over, but no one realizes, even the pilot doesn’t? I have no idea how long the train is. I see all the others as they stretch their necks to see something and to understand. I salute, but the wind swallows my words.

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