Posted by Roger Mallett Posted on 26 March 2023

Time, and the tragedy of the unspoken word

I WAS intrigued by the story of an American scientist who is trying to invent a time machine so he can return to see his father, who died in 1955.

Professor Ronald Mallett was only ten when his inspirational dad, Boyd, suffered a fatal heart attack. ‘When he passed away, it was like this light went out,’ he says. ‘I was in shock. To this day, it’s hard for me to believe he’s gone, even after 60-some years.’

The tragedy prompted him to launch a lifetime of research into how time travel could be achieved. If he could go back to 1955, he figured, he might even be able to save his father’s life.

Now the 77-year-old astrophysicist from the University of Connecticut believes he may have the answer with a device called a ring laser, which can create an intense and continuous rotating beam of light, twisting space itself.

On one level, his quest is a bit of a nutty professor story. Few scientists believe human time travel is possible. Even Professor Mallett admits there’s little chance he’ll see his father again. Even if his device worked, he could probably only go back to the time the machine was invented, not to 1955.

Yet I admire him for pursuing his impossible dream, because I’m sure his idea resonates deeply with many of us – being given a second chance of talking and interacting with relatives and friends we have loved and lost. And even perhaps with those we didn’t exactly love.

For, all too often, one of the great regrets when someone close to you dies is the things that you left unsaid to them while they were alive. And, of course, the things that you did say and do which may have caused hurt.

It’s one of life’s great mysteries that many people find it hard to openly express affection, thankfulness or joy towards others, even though their hearts are filled with such emotions. The most articulate among us can become tongue-tied, awkward and embarrassed when trying to get our feelings across. Perhaps it’s a British stiff upper lip thing, or just a contrary aspect of human nature. Whatever the reason, once the moment is lost it can never be regained and another small notch of regret is etched on the soul.

Like Professor Mallett, I’d dearly love some time again with my father, as well as my mother and grandparents. Not that there’d be fences to mend, but simply to talk to them about their lives – something I failed to do when they were here.

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