Nostalgia Series – Traveler’s Paradox

His eyes fluttered open, not to the sterile white of a hospital, but to the endless cosmos, where stars twinkled like distant fireflies. Floating before him was a being who seemed to be stitched together from the very fabric of the universe, a figure both awe-inspiring and slightly overwhelming.

“Ah, you’re awake,” the entity said, its voice a symphony of celestial sounds. “I am known by many names, but you can call me Mr. Nostalgia, or Death, or whatever suits your fancy. I prefer Tarun though.”

Still grappling with his new surreal surroundings, the guy managed a weak, “Uh, hello?”

“You, my fellow, have slipped into a coma, a pause in your life’s narrative,” Mr. Nostalgia explained, his cosmic form shimmering. “But here’s the twist in your tale: you now have a choice to make.”

The man, whose last memory was attempting a skateboard trick he was clearly too old for, listened intently. “Choice one,” Mr. Nostalgia continued, “is to live in a reality crafted from your fondest memories. The warmth of your first puppy lick, the thrill of your first kiss under the stars, the time you won that talent show with a questionable magic trick. A life of perpetual nostalgia.”

“You clearly aren’t an omniscient entity if you assume I’ve kissed anyone. The second choice?” he asked, his curiosity piqued.

“A leap of faith. A restart. You plunge back into the river of life, but as a new drop. New experiences, new challenges, new joys, and yes, new embarrassments,” Mr Nostalgia said with a cosmic twinkle in what the guy assumed was his eye.

He pondered. The nostalgic option was tempting – a highlight reel of his life, without the low moments. But it felt like watching reruns of his favourite sitcom: comforting, yet stagnant. The leap of faith, however, was an unknown adventure, a chance to experience the vast tapestry of life anew.

“What happens if I choose to restart?” he asked, his decision teetering on the edge of the unknown. “Ah,” said Mr. Nostalgia, “then you rejoin the dance of existence, in a new form, in a new time. Your essence continues, woven into the endless story of the universe.”

It was a choice between the comfort of the past and the uncertainty of a new beginning.

“What happens when I finish reliving my past ?”

“You end up here again in the same way you arrived and at the same time. You shall be presented with the same choices as well.”

“So you’re saying I’m stuck here in an infinite loop? Doomed to perpetually repeat my past if I choose to live in comfort.”

“Well you aren’t exactly doomed; you are given a choice to live in a euphoric bubble you so desperately seek for.”

“No, I do no-”

“Don’t lie, I have seen it all. Do I need to remind you about the day you went out with Jan-”

“Okay, okay. Fine, I do want to relive those moments, but I’d be stuck here, again, in the same state.”

“Then do you want to be reborn?”

“What if I get reborn as a jew in the holocaust? Or a chicken in a poultry farm. Life would be rather terrifying than the present”

“You shall live through those lives and come back here again. You are nothing but a traveller voyaging through the sea of time, conquering its mighty waves. Once an adventure is complete, I’m nothing but a compass you seek.”

“If I am a traveller, what is my destination?”

“That’s the fuzzy bit; neither you nor I know exactly what you desire. You seek comfort and happiness as you embark on new voyages into the new life you are reborn.”

“And if I find what I seek, I simply choose to be reborn in this life I lived.”

“Bingo, you got it.”

The dilemma presented was apparent: Should I return and relive my life? I haven’t had it all, but I was pretty content with my life. To leave this behind in search of something better was difficult. How do I quantify this “better”? I can’t simply compare the relationships I’ve been in my life and say that this is better than others.

“You don’t compare; you just take the leap of faith and go for it.”

Great, he can read my thoughts.

“Do you know about the next life if I choose to be reborn into a fresh start?”

“Certainly, I know everything about the past, present and future. I have seen all versions of you in every junction over time.”

“Fantastic, let me be reborn as the version of me who peaked in life.”

“How are you so sure it wasn’t your current life?”

I felt the blood drain from my face. Surely he was joking?

“Haha, I was indeed only jesting around. But to reply to your request, no I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

“Damn, so you’re not omnipotent after all”

“That’s your takeaway? No, it’s just that you can never really ‘peak’ in life. It’s been designed that way.”

“Yes, hit it right where it hurts.”

“Let me rephrase. A peak is only as high as the depths around it. So yes, you would have moments that you humans call ‘peaks’, but they will also be surrounded by steep pits of despair and loneliness. It’s just how life works, you can never really compare one ‘peak’ to another.”

“Interesting, so what is the metric for life? How will I ever know if I lived my life to the fullest?

“Well, that’s precisely why I exist. I make those seemingly fleeting moments of life seem worthwhile.”

“So you’re telling me that my previous life had moments worth of remembrance?”

“Must I remind you of that day in the office when Jan-”

“Okay stop, I got it.”

“Why do you hate your past life anyway? It seemed like every other human life to me.”

“Moving past the backhanded remark, I don’t necessarily hate it. I just don’t think there’s much to look back on.”

“I-”

“DO NOT BRING UP JAN!”

“Jan? Who’s that? But go on, continue.”

“Yes, as I was saying, I have been moving from one place to another my whole life. I don’t have a place I can call home. I don’t have a family with whom I’ve made memories.”

“And who said you had to have either of those things to be nostalgic? I don’t exist in places or people but in your experiences. I’m not as materialistic as your world paints me out to be. Hell, even taking a good dump can be quite nostalgic if you really think about it.”

“You’re unbelievable.”

“Yes, but I’m not really sure why, I’ve always wanted my own religion.”

Maybe I should have been sent to hell instead. 

The man, now thoroughly entangled in this existential debate with Mr. Nostalgia, felt a swirl of confusion and curiosity. He was stuck at a cosmic crossroads, with the power to choose but no clear path forward.

“You say I’m a traveller,” he mused, “but what’s the point of travelling if I can’t even remember the journey? Is it worth leaving behind a life that’s familiar, even if it’s filled with mundane moments and missed connections?”

Mr. Nostalgia leaned in, his cosmic form flickering like a nebula. “Ah, but that’s the beauty of it. Each life is a canvas, and you’re the artist. You paint with experiences, not with memories. The question is, do you want to add more strokes to the canvas you’ve started, or begin a new one entirely?”

The man paused, pondering the weight of his decision. “If I choose to restart, will I ever cross paths with this life again? Will I remember any of it?”

“Life’s tapestry is vast and intricate,” Mr. Nostalgia replied enigmatically. “Our paths may cross, or they may not. As for memories, they’re like wisps of smoke, elusive and ever-changing. You might catch glimpses, feelings, but nothing concrete. That’s the rule of the game.”

“And if I go back to my old life?”

“You’ll relive the moments you cherish, yes, but also the ones you’d rather forget. It’s a package deal, my friend.”

The man sighed, his mind a whirlpool of thoughts. He looked at Mr. Nostalgia, then at the starry expanse around him. “And what if I can’t make a choice? What if I’m stuck here, forever undecided?”

Mr. Nostalgia’s eyes twinkled. “Then you’ll stay here, in this limbo, until you’re ready to choose. But remember, time works differently here. A moment of indecision might be a lifetime back on Earth.”

The man paused to think, and gazed silently into the cosmos. And then, as he made up his mind, he looked at Mr Nostalgia and smiled. The entity nodded in understanding, and created a portal to guide him to his chosen life. The man steeled himself, took a deep breath, and followed the fading path into the realm unknown. 

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