During our last visit, Jorge and I veered into a favorite topic of conversation, alternate histories. Alternate histories are fascinating because usually only one crucial variable needs to be changed.
Jorge wondered aloud what North America would be like if the United States had NOT purchased Alaska from the Russian Empire. This event is very plausible because there was opposition in Washington to the purchase. It was derided as “Seward’s Folly”. The outcomes of colonization efforts, population mixes, and wars might have been vastly different.
Can you imagine what the 20th Century and the Cold War would have been like if the Soviet Union’s territory had included Alaska? What about now? What if Vladimir Putin’s dictates held sway over that large piece of North America? A person can imagine many scenarios, most of them unfavorable to the USA.
Jorge handed me a large envelope and, with a twinkle in his eye, warned me not to open it until Monday. He asked if I had ever pondered my own alternate personal histories. I answered that I had done so, but it’s been many years since I’ve actually looked into the possibilities.
My friend whipped out his phone and Googled famous people born on August 17, 1952. The first name to come up was Guillermo Vilas, the champion tennis player. Can I imagine having four major singles titles to my name? My place of birth would have had to be Buenos Aires, Argentina. I’d also need to have a strong interest and encouragement in athletics. I winked at Jorge and said that I have little interest in tennis, but I wonder what life for me would have been like if Argentina was my country of origin.
The next person on the list was more up my alley. One of the greatest Formula One race car drivers of all time is Nelson Piquet (Senior). When I was a young boy, I often imagined myself as a famous driver, racing at LeMans or in the Indianapolis 500. To be Nelson Piquet, my parents would have to have lived in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Even though Rio is further north than Argentina, I wonder how well my Portuguese language skills might have been.
Next, Jorge mentioned Kathryn Thornton, the NASA Astronaut. She was born on my birthday in Montgomery, Alabama. She’s been in orbit on a Space Shuttle four times. Her grand total of orbits is 256 times or 6,000,000 miles, and almost 16 total days in Space. Following her retirement, she joined the faculty of the University of Virginia School of Engineering as a Physicist. I’m very impressed with Thornton’s credentials.
Jorge mentioned that her history couldn’t have been mine because biological factors caused me to turn out as a guy. Not to worry, though, Jorge said that another NASA Astronaut was a more possible alternate candidate.
Thomas Hennen was born on my natal day in Albany, Georgia. He shares many of my interests along with several more. He began his career as a Warrant Officer in the US Army, specializing in Intelligence. Chief Hennen became the first Warrant Officer in Space as part of the crew of Space Shuttle Atlantis in November of 1991. His orbital total is 109 times or 2,900,000 miles. Following Hennen’s retirement from the Army, he co-founded and became Executive Director of the Atlantis Foundation, a service provider for people with developmental disabilities.
Although these people have accomplished many fantastic, amazing feats, I cannot imagine myself filling their shoes. There were many people born on this date in 1952. Some in Vietnam, Australia, Uganda, Saudi Arabia, the Soviet Union, Mexico, and elsewhere in the United States, what would my life be like after growing up in any of those places?
Even with my own biological parents living in the same location as they did, there were still many variables. What if dad had been away on a business trip that day? What about the microscopic variables? What if different Gametes had come together at the time of my conception? I would not have happened, at all.
I told Jorge that I’m glad, overall, for the personal history that I actually lived. The happiness of childhood and its many harsh lessons helped formulate my adulthood. I would not have lived nor travelled to the various places I’ve seen. I am lucky to have enjoyed work, doing what I liked and wanted. I probably would not have met the many people I know, including Jorge, if even one aspect of my actual personal history was different. I’m very thankful about how I turned out.
Jorge gave me a big bear-hug and said he was happy for my actual personal history, too.