Clara: Still hungry? Well I’ve brought something for you. This. The most important leaf in human history. The most important leaf in human history! It’s full of stories, full of history. Full of a future that never got lived, days that should have been but never were. Passed onto me. This leaf isn’t just the past, it’s a whole future that never happened. There are millions and millions of unlived days but every day we live an infinity. All the days that never came, and these were my mum’s.
The Doctor: Well? Come on then. Eat up. You’re full? I expect so. Because there’s quite a difference between what was and what should have been. There’s an awful lot of one but there’s an infinity of the other. An infinity is too much, even for your appetite.
In what was overall a sort of middle-of-the-road episode of Doctor Who, the final moments where Clara offered her “page one” leaf to the story-eating star of Akhaten were truly powerful and heartbreaking. This was the leaf that, through a convoluted series of events, caused her parents to meet for the very first time. This was the leaf that her parents kept, preserving it for themselves and for their little girl, calling it “the most important leaf in human history” because without it, they never would have found one another. This was the leaf that Clara called “page one,” the story of her family that spurs her onward toward her future of traveling and seeing amazing things, living the days that her mother never could. And this leaf, filled with all the stories of a joyful past and an unrealized future, is what proves to be too much for the villainous Akhaten soul-vampire. The Doctor tells us why: because history is big, but the unknown is infinite.
Usually with Doctor Who episodes, I find myself identifying with the Doctor, or with the companion. Many moments in Rings of Akhaten, I was doing just that. But as I reflect upon the leaf scene, upon the destruction of Akhaten, I find myself challenged to identify with the villain–greedy, information-hungry Akhaten, who cannot help but taste the unknown and finds himself (we’ll call it a him for purposes of writing) completely overwhelmed by its infinite possibilities.
I am an information glutton. I thrill on knowing stuff. Whether it’s little things that I can google or big things that I hear from others, I love having stories to reflect upon, remember, and share with others. “Did you hear about. . . ” and “Have you seen this?” are two of my absolute favorite conversation starters. I am a gatherer of stories.
I believe that, at our core, we as humans are gatherers of stories. We are a storytelling people, as is evidenced by the massive machine that is our entertainment industry. And yet, with all of the stories and all of the information and all of the distractions that surround us every single day, there is not a one of us who is not fascinated each and every day by what might have been. We can’t resist it. And yet it absolutely overwhelms us.
Have you ever pondered the days that never came? The stories that might have taken place if something had been different? The “what if” game is a dangerous and time consuming one to play. What if she hadn’t died? What if I took the job? What if I had said yes? What if I missed out? We play the scenarios over in our head–different ones each time, of course, because there really is no way to tell what might have happened. History is big, but the unknown is infinite.
If I let myself dwell on the days that never came for too long, I, like Akhaten, discover that I am collapsing in on myself. I become despondent and frustrated, lost in the infinite possibilities that I will never be able to test or experience. Even with my voracious appetite for stories, infinity is just too much to digest. All it does is lead me to my own destruction.
Perhaps I need to be more like Clara was in this story–I need to let the unknowns, those preserved leaves in my memory, serve to push me forward into the rest of my own story. Instead of dwelling on them, I need to make them my “page one”–the inspiration to conquer the unknown that I actually WILL get to experience. God is writing a great story with me every day. He allows me to go with him on a great adventure, and so I need to let go of what I can never know, and face what it is that I can know together with Him.
As you move into the rest of this week, maybe you, like me, need to let go of the days that never came, and instead let them become your page one. I pray that God gives you the strength to do just that.