S01E05 - Walking Distance
“Advertising executive Martin Sloan (Gig Young), age thirty-six, is exhausted by the hectic pace of life in New York City. One day, while in an especially disgruntled mood, Martin goes for a drive in the country and winds up not far from his old home town. He stops, leaves his car at a gas station and sets off on foot to the town. Mysteriously, he arrives to find things exactly as they were when he was a child. Then reality sets in. His short walk has taken him a long, long way...much farther than he thought...all the way to The Twilight Zone.”
YOLO, short for "you only live once", was a pretty ubiquitous phrase on the Internet for a while there. At it’s best, the motto meant one should live their life to the fullest even if there were risks involved. At it’s worst, it was used as an excuse to justify whatever reckless behavior a person might wish to engage in. Or as one guy on the Urban Dictionary put it, YOLO was basically “carpe diem” for stupid people.
But perhaps there’s another way of looking at the sentiment of “you only live once,” and it’s to be found in Walking Distance. This is one of the more beloved episodes of the whole series, named by CBS itself as one of the top ten ever produced. It’s the wistful story of one Martin Sloan, who walks into his old home town only to find that he’s traveled not just miles, but years as well. And once he realizes what is going on, he attempts to do that thing we’ve all dreamed of at one time or another, which is to find his younger self and warn him about all the mistakes he’s going to make as he grows older so that he can avoid them.
But, this being the Twilight Zone, things don’t quite go the way Martin hoped. Even though his younger self is within arm’s reach, Martin finds there’s simply no way to impart his knowledge of the future so that he can avoid how things turned out in his adult life. And maybe that’s for the best. As Martin’s father tells his mysteriously older son, “Maybe when you go back, Martin, you'll find that there are merry-go-rounds and band concerts where you are. Maybe you haven't been looking in the right place. You've been looking behind you, Martin. Try looking ahead.”
It would seem Martin’s father understands a few things about regret. You see, it’s okay to feel remorse for our past mistakes. As Father John Hardon wrote, “Sorrow for past mistakes answers to the gift of knowledge.” But we only live once, as the saying goes, so we shouldn’t simply dwell on those mistakes to the extent that our regret cripples our present, as Martin’s does in this episode. We should instead see those feelings as an opportunity to open ourselves up to the future as God would have us live it. We approach our regrets as a doorway to conversion, Hardon wrote, then consolation will surely follow.
Twilight Tidbits: Movie and television fans alike will surely recognize a four year old Ron Howard in one of his first-ever roles. Aparently he went on to do a few things later in life.