December 30, 2008

 

(UN)AWARE

 

with thanks to

 Jack Finney ~ "Time After Time" & "Time and Again"

and

Alton Gansky ~ “Ship Out of Time”

for stirring my imagination in this direction

 

and especially to God

Who gave me the ending the final week of November, 2008

 

This story had its beginning December 18, 2000 but was not finished until just recently when God gave me the ending I'd been trying to find for the past eight years. It came to me in a dream earlier this week, I hope that you enjoy it.

 

Suppose one could become unstuck in time. Suppose it were possible to lose one’s moorings in the stream of time and travel upon it as one would upon an ocean. We have each experienced a form of this unstuckness. Who among us has not looked up from an engrossing book to stare in wonder at how our surroundings differed from what was expected; only to realize that the expectations to which our surroundings were being compared had been created by the words of the book which only a moment ago had been our world. We need consider going but one step further to see that the question of such travel in time is not so much a question of if but rather of how and even when.

 

Suppose we wished to explore our past, we would need a history in which to immerse ourselves as in the book just mentioned. Not the history passing as such in our schools; such history will change from nation to nation, person to person, time to time. One may equally attempt to enter the worlds of Verne or Chesterton which, despite their historical accuracy, serve only as backdrops to the story of created characters. There could be no travel to these worlds since they are not real. The history I mean is entirely accurate, reporting without societal filter the events which have placed us where we stand. Such a history does not interpret yesterday but understand it; reproducing as much as possible reactions  in ourselves similar to those of the participants in those events. With such a history, one’s only necessary security would be to possess an appropriately intriguing and accurate record of our own world in order to return and here is displayed the one limitation of such travel: It is suitable only for travelling the road of what has already passed, never the road of what will come.

 

A hint of what I propose may be seen in the following bit of verse which centers around the perception of reality through the eyes of two children of my acquaintance (a third, their sibling, though no doubt possessed of similar thought, was at the time unable to present his ideas):

 

As soon as the moon

and the sound of the geese go away

a dragon comes flying by

and a dinosaur walks across the street,

stepping around the cars.

 

I know because my children told me so.

One is forgetful but is also rememberful

 

This verse sounds a bit of nonsense until you realize that the children of whom I speak were reporting reality from their own point of view. If we were able to enter that world of childish wonder, would we too have seen the dragon flying by or stare bemusedly at a dinosaur warily stepping around the cars parked in its path, excruciatingly careful not to scratch any paint. The children believed in what could happen and watched for it with a simple faith that knew no contrary voice. Whether or not it would actually occur is beside the point, and who knows what would have happened had their father not hurried his children along that morning. What is needed is similar faith that we are able to cast off from our current moorage in time and tie up at an earlier point; the simple conviction that our papers are in order and that they will permit us passage. With that by way of explanation, here then is my adventure.

 

It seems odd that one man interacting with another for so short a period of time could cause so lasting an impression and cause so impressive a change in his fortunes. My uncle, my father's older brother by several years, often spoke of the man as though he were an entity unto himself, one who existed for the simple reason that for him not to exist would have been unthinkable. He would speak often of this man, sentiment no doubt causing the tears to flow from his eyes, and how were it not for this person my uncle’s entire subsequent history would have been altered to his utter and irreparable harm. For my uncle was caught up in a circumstance which, if left to follow its anticipated course, would have resulted in his destruction. And as I now also reap the benefit of his change so I also owe this fleeting man an debt of gratitude.

 

My uncle describes the event that changed his life as follows: He was in a dining coach, alone with his situation and considering what he had already considered countless hours before. He was oblivious of the living of the lives around him and noticed nothing of the men, women and families that occupied the coach with him but to this day he is able to describe the atmosphere with such detail that if you were to hear him speak you would smell the clothes, feel the rocking of the coach as it rattled along the rails and even taste a hint of the meal that was about to be served. He has described the evening as overcast and grey with a light drizzle falling in sufficient volume to quench all but the most buoyant of souls. His soul was far from buoyant. The short span of hours of this one evening was to prove the most critical of his entire life. Tomorrow he would either be great or nothing and he tells us that his mood was somber for he could not see clearly the way to greatness and was certain that he was to remain a lost soul in a vast and numberless humanity. He had evaluated all his options and could see no road open to him other than the road to oblivion.

 

He first noticed the man shortly after dinner had been served and he is certain that he had not noticed him before that. The man’s joy was palpable and was so at odds with the circumstance surrounding my uncle, so completely opposed to the weather, that to not have noticed him would have been no more possible than noticing a lion seated on a sofa quietly reading the news. After searching the coach as for a particular person the man seated himself at my uncle’s table. They passed the meal in silence, my uncle sneaking furtive glances at his companion and slowly becoming overwhelmed by the man’s delight with all that he encountered. After the tables had been cleared and cigars lit my uncle was surprised to see the man rise and prepare to leave the coach as it was customary for the men to remain and slowly come to terms with the perfection they had just experienced. Yet, just before the man left my uncle’s table he turned and spoke these words:

 

“It is the more difficult road that offers the greatest reward.”

 

Stunned, my uncle stammered an uncharacteristically clumsy exclamation: “I beg your…pardon?”

 

“I said,” the stranger replied gently, “that it is the more difficult road that offers the greatest reward.”

 

This statement was so appropriate to my uncle’s situation that he asked the man to explain.

 

“Simply,” said the man, “that the prize is worth the price paid to obtain it. Victory over oppression is paid for in quantities of blood the smallest amount of which carries a greater value than an infinity of gold. Yet those who receive the benefit of the victory care more for the prize than they do for the price. Your redemption as well, though freely available for you to lay hold of today, was a very unpleasant process for the One who made it possible. Yet He viewed the prize as being worthy of its price. The discomfort or pain of a situation is far less than its reward.”

 

And with that, my uncle says, the man left the coach and he never saw him again. Needless to say my uncle found himself adding what his recent companion had said to all that he had been considering. He remembers nothing of the remainder of his journey save that when he arrived at his destination the stars were alight in the sky as though God Himself had scattered gems of fire upon the velvet of the night. His decision had been made. Today you see in my family the result of that decision, a decision made by a man who was willing to pay a very high price for victory rather than to save a fortune for defeat.

 

That is my uncle’s story. My own is that I have long wanted to find this man and offer my own gratitude for the great good he performed for my uncle and indirectly for me. The vividness of my uncle’s description of his experience, coupled with my own desire to thank his benefactor proved both too powerful to resist and too opportune to ignore. It seemed that I could accomplish two tasks with one: Prove whether or not travel to history was possible and at the same time meet the man my uncle met and thank him for his great good. I made my preparations carefully, rehearsing over and again the actualness of the time in which my uncle’s encounter took place. Thankfully, that time was not so distant past and I was able to immerse myself into that time as though it had never passed. But it was only after several weeks of living conceptually in the past that I at last found myself physically in the time of my uncle’s story.

 

No dream could have been as vivid as was my solitary excursion into history.

 

What I noticed first was the aroma, neither pleasant nor offensive, an aroma that differed from that with which I was familiar and carried with it not an impression of an other time but of a different reality. Travelers of our globe have likewise noticed culturally distinct aromas in their travels and recalling this I was convinced of the reality of what I was experiencing. It smelled real. Conversations were taking place around me. Soft, whispered words, lest others hear, yet of sufficient volume to assure others that other life was present. It was comforting to bask in this warmth as I took in the scene my uncle had so often described to me. it was real, and I savoured it for what it was and did not mourn for what it would become.

 

After several moment I was able to locate my uncle, much younger, seated alone at his table, seemingly lost to his thoughts. Even now his face showed scarcely a sign of the torment he must be experiencing. I longed to go and speak to him, to somehow let him know that he was not alone, that he would shine after this night, but I did not dare lest something that I did would alter the event as it happened.

 

I needn't have worried. Many of my predecessors have written of the "paradox of time" and of "causal loops" and sundry other nonsensical thoughts as though a man in my position could presume to make a change to what has made him. I could no more affect a change here than I could make a bird. I couldn't open the magazine on the table before me nor pick up the discarded match that lay on the floor between my feet. Only as a spectator could I interact with this reality; a mere viewer of what occurred around me. The thought that I was less solid than a phantom gave me brief pause as it occurred to me that perhaps reported phantoms and apparitions were no more than visitors from distant times like myself rather than the darker terrors men like my uncle believed they were.

 

But I had little more time for reflection as I saw man enter the car, walk directly to my uncle's table and take his place upon the empty seat across from him. I saw the conversation take place just as my uncle described, from his startled look at the man’s first comment to the moment when the man arose and my uncle began to consider his words. I had determined that I would follow him so that I could thank him in private but I had not anticipated my inability to communicate with those around me. Had I found opportunity to speak to him, he would not have heard me; nor would he feel the grateful grip of my hands upon his own. My hope now was to follow the man as he left my uncle and perhaps learn something of his living arrangements that would permit me to thank him when I returned to my own time.

 

So I followed him as he left my uncle, but he went no further than to the next coach to take a seat in a quite corner. I stood ready to follow him from the coach after him if and when he would leave and it is a curious thing to stand in a well lit coach and realize that none could know of my presence. Alone and surrounded, all in one moment. Determined not to let the opportunity pass, I studied the features of the man, committing them to my memory so I could recognize him in my time if he had aged kindly.

 

Some time later the train came to a stop at a station enshroud in mist and the man got up to leave the coach, I followed him. Of the long trail he led me through the dark night and lonely streets I will not speak, for this is unimportant. What is important was the place where he stopped: The old house of worship where my family had gathered for generations. I had not been near it in years but it was to this building that the man led me and it was here where he astounded me when he turned, looked directly at me and said “Good Evening” as though he had been waiting for just this moment to great someone he had expected to meet at this very place.

 

Taken aback by this sudden turn of events I replied to him by repeating his words back to him and adding “It’s been quite an evening.”

 

“Yes, it has been,” he said, “but it is not yet finished.”

 

I was flabbergasted. He had noticed me, had heard me speak. I was no longer alone.

 

He continued, “Why don’t we go into this house and come out of the night?”

 

And I saw the doors were open wide and the light from inside blazing out onto the damp street to lap at our feet. Strangely, the light seemed not so much to illuminate the man beside me as to emanate from him and I gasped in sudden awareness.

 

He smiled. “Good, you at last know who I Am.” And I nodded, ashamed.

 

Relieved.

 

He had made a special effort to find me as well.