Several years ago, I had what I call the Really Weird September. I’d gotten an offer for a dream job (without even applying)…in a time when I felt clearly called to stay where I was. I’d been extended a hopeful second chance to re-try an old relationship…and I said no. I’d met someone who quite possibly could have been a great friend and mentor…who was moving away in a few days.
It was a series of weeks that felt full of “almost”s and “what-if”s and “Am I crazy, what am I even doing?”s. Even though I felt some peace about the decisions I was making, it felt like way too many narrow misses for all the things that were supposed to make me happy.
Soon after, I listened to the song “The Wrong Year” by the Decemberists—don’t ask me to tell you what the lyrics mean, I have no idea. Except for maybe this one part: “And the rain falls on the wrong year / And it won’t leave you alone / Won’t leave you alone.”
I heard that line. Heard it again. (And again and again—it’s in the chorus, so you know, that happens.) And I thought I might know what it felt like for rain to fall on the wrong year.
One spring, we had massive flooding in my home state, road closings and school cancellations and storm after storm with no letting up…when the year before had been one of the worst droughts we’d ever seen, full of parched corn stalks and dried-up grass.
What might have been considered a blessing in a different situation was inconvenient and even damaging, because it was the wrong year.
When something like that happens, it nags at you in the back of your mind where the “why”s aimed at God gather up and sometimes fester. It won’t leave you alone.
That’s how I felt. I’d think: what if I’d gotten the job offer right out of college, or the relationship had never ended, or I’d been living here at the right time to be mentored by someone I respected? Did all of these things happen on the wrong year? If the timing had been slightly different, or I’d made tiny adjustments to my choices…what could have happened?
That’s what I thought about after watching Avengers: End Game, because time travel is one of the deepest kinds of wish fulfillment.
Haven’t you replayed a conversation in your mind, thinking of how you’d do it differently if you only had a chance? Don’t you have a collection of “what-ifs,” from silly missteps to major life decisions, that keep you up late at night, wondering? Can’t you name the regrets that still twinge in your memory?
Haven’t you ever wondered if the rain fell on the wrong year? Just slightly off, a little too late or early, too much or too little. And whether you felt like it was your fault, or someone else’s, or even God’s…it’s a hard emotion to deal with.
That’s how we relate to the Avengers at the start of End Game. So many characters have lines that mention failure, regret, and resentment:
“You could not live with your own failure, and where did that bring you? Back to me.”
“Everyone fails at who they’re supposed to be, Thor.”
“He thinks he failed, which of course he did. But you know there’s a lot of that going around, ain’t there?”
(That would be Thanos, Thor’s mother, and Rocket for those of you playing “Guess the Quote” at home.)
We also get to see how the Avengers respond to their apocalyptic-level failure. As the audience, we’re supposed to sort their reactions on a spectrum from healthy to unhealthy.
Captain America counseling others to move on? Good. Thor swigging beer and playing video games? Bad.
Natasha heading up a squad of super-peacekeepers from the survivors? Very good. Hawkeye going on a revenge spree murdering criminals? Very bad.
The Hulk trying to act like none of it is a big deal and embracing his celebrity, and Iron Man isolating himself to live his second-chance life? Sort of in-between?
Probably, everyone can see themselves in one of the Avengers. (I can picture the BuzzFeed Quiz now: “Faced with a soul-crushing regret, which Avenger would you be most like?”) But even though some had better ways of coping than others, nothing was satisfying for us as an audience…until they had a chance to go back and fix things, to undo every awful thing that had happened in the Snap.
We waited on the edge of our seat until the moment when everything was made right again, and the Avengers—all of them, even the fallen—assembled. And saved the world.
In the real world, we’re not there yet. We’ve got the regrets, sure, and plenty of failure and blame and heartache to go around. Only when we look back, the story doesn’t change. There are no Infinity Stones to capture and rearrange reality with. We have a deep need for everything wrong to become right again…but we don’t have a time machine.
So what do we do?
I’ll admit it: the reason I sometimes wish for time travel is because I want more control. I’m searching for some tiny changes I could make to settle everything back into place and make things feel the way I think they should, hoping that I can fix everything. Somehow.
It won’t work. It could never work, and it never does.
Back in the Really Weird September, I handed the decisions I made over to God, dragging all the “why now?”s and “did I do the right thing?”s and “what if no one else ever comes?” out of their dark corners and praying. It was only then that the doubt and regret finally left me alone.
Because if I really trust God, there’s no such thing as the wrong year. Not for rain. Not for the timing of the Really Weird September.
Not for when or where any of us were born, not for how the events our lives shaped us, not for the people placed around us at any given time. It’s all purposeful. Not a dice roll, not bad luck or arbitrary punishment or a random Snap.
I still can’t tell you what would have happened if I’d said yes to that guy or accepted that job or moved away from Minnesota after a year, or any of the other not-quite choices I could have made. I can tell you some of what I would have missed out on, because that’s the reality I’ve lived the past four years, but some of the whys and why nots will always be hidden from me. And that’s okay.
I made meaningful choices, but this is also the story that God put me in. The only story.
And someday—don’t forget, this part is important—the Christian faith teaches that everything will be made right again. We have that deep, aching need for a reason…it’s just that we can’t do it ourselves. With or without a time machine.