"If you know this," said Billy, "isn't there some way you can prevent it? Can't you keep the pilot from pressing the button?"
"He has always pressed it, and he always will. We always let him and we always will let him. The moment is structured that way."
Tralfamadorian logic. You really can't argue with it. It has already happened, is happening, will happen. There's no reason to change the moment. It's simply another link in an M. C. Escher universe. One hand draws the other, if you get what I mean. There's really no beginning or end.
Of course, that's a fairly interesting dilemma that has played out in most science fiction/time travel narratives. Given the opportunity to stop something really catastrophic from happening, what would you do? Stephen King has written about this a couple of times. In The Dead Zone, the main character tries to stop the villain from starting a nuclear war in the future. In 11/22/63, the protagonist is attempting to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy. These kinds of stories never end well.
I think about the gift of foresight in my own life. For example, if I could travel back in time about five years, I could possibly save my sister's life, get her to the right doctor to get an early diagnosis. If I could go back ten years, I could help my brother avoid the stroke that eventually killed him. Would I do these things, given the opportunity? Of course. Anybody would to save the life of a loved one.
Unfortunately, I don't live in a science fiction, time-traveling universe. I have to live with the past. I don't have the Tralfamadorian personality, though. I can't accept the bad things that happened in my life so cavalierly. They're still painful.
Vonnegut wrote Slaughterhouse to somehow deal with his experiences in World War II, and, in particular, the bombing of Dresden. To do so, he creates Billy Pilgrim, a person unstuck in time. By doing this, he is able to somehow gain some perspective on a really horrific personal experience. Perhaps Vonnegut sort of feels like an alien because of this experience, both human and nonhuman. He has no other way to deal with such tragedy than to become a tentacular visitor to the Earth.
I'm not sure what I'm trying to say tonight. Pain and tragedy will always be a part of life on this planet because human beings are inherently flawed. We live in a broken world, filled with broken people. Sometimes there seems to be no meaning when bad things happen. Maybe there is no meaning.
Or maybe the meaning isn't in the experience, but in the way that we deal with it. I could let the death of my sister from brain lymphoma ruin my life, Sink into a pit of grief and disappear. Or I can create my own meaning. Help other families who are dealing with loss. Raise money for cancer research. It's my choice.
Saint Marty is thankful tonight for that ability to choose.