This is Part II of the Mr. Holland story. For the first part of the story, where Mr. Holland meets the very strange Quintana family, click here.
Mr. Holland’s eyes darted to meet Malcolm’s with an inquisitive look, then went back to meet Mrs. Quintana’s. He couldn’t find words and relied on his silence to prompt more of an explanation. He knew something strange was going on with this boy, but could not have expected anything this peculiar and bizarre.
The family stood still waiting for Mr. Holland to respond or make a move.
“Powers?” he finally uttered half-doubting, half-in-wonder.
“Come,” said Mrs. Quintana, doing her best to usher the teacher into the kitchen. She had him sit at the kitchen table, and Malcolm followed up behind with a glass of water for his teacher, anticipating his mother’s request.
They all sat in silence as Mr. Holland regained his composure. They had not had visitors before this, but were well aware of the mystery that they presented to the “unaware world.”
“A series of decisions brought you here to this table today, Mr. Holland,” Mrs. Quintana said with the all-observing tone of voice reserved for mothers. “For that same series of decisions, there could have been many different outcomes.”
She paused to make sure Mr. Holland received her deliberately vague, veiled message.
“The decisions you make perpetually affect the world you live in,” she continued. “The outcomes of these decisions ultimately create new scenarios for you, whether large or small. But there’s no way of telling if you’d actually be better off had you chosen even one thing differently.”
She paused, then flicked her wrist as she continued. “Because once you make a choice, you can’t go back and see what your life would actually be down a different path.”
This was not news to the school teacher. He had always known about the so-called butterfly effect and weighed the consequences of all of his decisions heavily. But why was all this coming up now? What could this strange family have to offer him in the way of making decisions about his life?
Then it hit him. He squinted his eyes and was even more curious as to where this conversation was going.
“You can—,” he stuttered a bit in disbelief. “You know all of this?”
“Not everything,” she replied. “But, yes, somehow in the evolutionary path, our family is among the first with the ability to experience life across the dimension of time.”
“You see things through the fourth dimension?” The teacher’s voice squeaked, shifting from disbelief into astonishment. “That’s incredible!”
“Ha!” she giggled. “Beyond the fourth. We’re well into the fifth dimension.” She seemed not cocky or braggadocious in saying so, but wanted to convey the extent and magnitude of this discussion.
“It has proven to help see the consequences of our decisions more clearly, but has certainly been a hassle in this world of time and space. Sometimes, with the small intricacies of the physical, three-dimensional world, we struggle with defining what is physically in front of us, and what we are seeing in another dimension, or version of this world.”
Mr. Holland couldn’t help but let out a laugh as he realized that this was the reason behind the Quintana’s clumsiness. It’s not that they’re inept; it’s that they are constantly seeing so many different things from different dimensions that they trip up—physically—trying to keep track of them all.
“But how?” he inquired.
“Don’t worry about that just yet,” she knew he wasn’t ready to hear the answer. “But we can offer some insight into your own life if you’d like.”
“What kind of insight?” Mr. Holland returned.
He didn’t hear a response. His head became light, and his vision blurred. He tried to fight the sudden onset of fatigue, but it overwhelmed him. He grew dizzy, and his head fell fast onto the padded kitchen table.
But Mr. Holland immediately realized he was in a weird state of lucid dream where he could still control his thoughts and words. And though she was not visible in this waking dream, Mr. Holland could still communicate with Mrs. Quintana, whose voice hung in the air no matter where he went.
The empty space turned him upside down, revealing a scene from earlier in his life. Before his eyes, he watched a younger version of himself arguing with Principal Jessup about the curriculum. It wasn’t the first time he had had this argument, but it was definitely the most fiery. Mr. Holland didn’t agree with how the school insisted on teaching the kids. He wanted to make a change to the curriculum and the way it was taught. He knew deep down that there was a better instructional method, but would never get the permission to teach that way without spending months documenting the new instruction method, researching the curriculum changes, persuading the Board of Education to enact the change, and training his fellow teachers. It seemed too cumbersome, so he ultimately succumbed to the traditional curriculum and never bothered to push for the change again.
Just as Mr. Holland felt himself getting emotional again, thinking about the changes he could have instilled, his body blasted through the time and space dreamscape once more, the world spinning by him like a tornado. Then, it came to an abrupt stop.
The scene before him had the familiar and eerie feeling of a déjà vu. A coffee shop that he frequents. A familiar barista. A woman, to whom he has never actually spoken, despite wanting to strike up a conversation with her every time he saw her.
A time where he got impatient with a student. Then, earlier in his life when he was deciding what school he wanted to go to, what profession he wanted to pursue, the sports he played. He flashed to some big decisions and some seemingly small decisions.
During some of these waking dreams, he felt happy to watch himself make the seemingly-right decision. Other times, he felt ashamed and wished he could have gone back and done things over the right way.
Then his dream shifted to scenes he had never observed before. They were of future versions of himself.
He saw visions of himself in the classroom after successfully changing the curriculum as he’d wanted to. Sure, this altered path was longer and fraught with challenges, but he fought it with passion because he knew he could make a change, instead of packing his efforts away. He made some drastic changes and saw himself receiving praise from his fellow teachers at the school, national teaching awards, and most touchingly, countless heartfelt thank yous from his students. He had made a huge difference in the lives of others around him.
In the next scene, he was older, spending time with his wife. It was the barista from the same coffee shop. The scene unfolded and showed how they met—how he stumbled over his words the first time he talked to her, then making light humor from the awkwardness. She laughed and flirted back. He flashed to a scene where they smiled and toasted to each other at their 10th anniversary, happily married and pursuing their dreams together.
The second part of the dream went on like this, and the roller coaster of emotions ratcheted up to higher and higher peaks, and then cannonballed deeper and deeper.
He didn’t know how to handle any of it. Of course he didn’t have the ability to go back and redo the things that had already passed. But seeing things like this, seeing who he could have been or what he could have done made him wish he had made a different decision at times. While he was very self-assured in some parts of his life, he wished he had taken a few more chances with a little more confidence in other situations.
Given this new insight, he was equal parts determined and infuriated. When things started to get just about as heavy as he could take he heard Mrs. Quintana’s god-like voice.
“At the end of your life, you’ll get a chance to meet many different versions of yourself. Some will be rich, some famous, some masters of their craft, some poor, and some with a wasted life. Some died young, some affected many people positively, and some, alternatively, negatively influenced those around them.
“You’ll get to meet them all, Mr. Holland. They all were put in the same positions as you at one point or another, in your same life, with your same mind and body. In each incarnation, you may have made decisions based on what you believed was right, or you followed your heart. Sometimes you were fooled by distractions, and sometimes you succumbed to temptations of all sorts. But regardless of what decisions you made, you had the same amount of potential at one point or another.
“So, Mr. Holland, when you finally get a chance to see these different versions of yourself, at the end of this life, it will either seem like a ‘heaven’ with a triumphant reassurance that you spent your time wisely, and made the best of every one of your decisions. Or, this encounter between You today and who you could have become will seem like the worst version of hell, where you’ll forever carry on in regret of not following your dreams, trying new things, or spending time with the ones you love.”