Where You Takin’ Me in That Time Machine?

[Essay Prompt: If given the opportunity to take a time machine to the future, what time would you visit and why?]

When I was little, I was obsessed with Michael J. Fox’s classic movie, Back to the Future. At the age of three, before I could even pronounce the title, I would demand of my mother, “Back to Foochur, Back to Foochur!” and the tape would roll and roll. When I was twelve I revisited the film and became seriously fascinated with time machines and the concept of time travel in general. Metaphysical and philosophical questions flooded my head: What is time? Do all events occur simultaneously on one long, streaming world line? Could one possibly manipulate and navigate time? Could I experience another period of human existence? These thoughts consumed me as a seventh-grade researcher. I remember making visits to the library to peer through the works of Isaac Asimov and Stephen Hawking while daydreaming about other realms of the space-time continuum.

I never particularly wanted to visit the future. When I imagine the timeline of the world, I see the past on the left – fuzzy images of events from my life and the history of humanity. On the right, I see blank squares of the units of time in white. It was frightening to think about what could be written there. Just imagining it brought me anxiety.

Lately I’ve been writing narratives about my own personal experiences. I love writing about the past because it’s the only concrete thing I have. The present is almost illusory. It slips by so quickly that I never even realize that I have it, much less feel like I know what I ought to do with it. The future is altogether problematic. It is, in reality, completely uncertain, yet somehow I convince myself that I am capable of controlling it. I visualize, plan, and predict. When future moves to present, I wring my hands in helplessness and watch as it slips into the paralyzing ambiguity of “now.”

How can I determine what to do with “now” when I am so focused on all the possibilities of “then” – of tomorrow, some distant time and space? Now? What is Now?

But then, as the moment – carefully dancing with and gripping all the other molecules surrounding it and qualifying its existence – slips into the past, it frees me from this worry. It is over. Its existence, quality, and validity do not depend on me or what I do with them. Conscious effort is no longer required; my only task is to remember. I can laugh. Sometimes it is better to cry.

Linford Detweiler and Karen Bergquist said, “Every day is a one-act play…without an ending.” I don’t want to ask God or Mother Nature or a Time Machine what the future holds. I only wish to ask the pen in my hand as I write the story of my life, myself.

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