Monday, September 3, 2007

Time Travel in Colour: A Story

Time Travel in Colour: A Story
an experiment in semi-autobiographical fantasy journaling

Some people are out there questioning & challenging fundamental theories of space and time while lately I’m focused on questioning & challenging how I understand certain events of my past. These seemed like disconnected concepts until the ideas collided to become my reality.
I was visiting with my friend Virgil last week at his private lab on Mercer Island. I’d been going through some rough, introspective times and was looking forward to spending some time with a friend who had a lot of insight into my own life as well as the world. He had invited me to come check out some experiments he’d been performing on light particles based on the initial research of G√ľnter Nimtz and Alfons Stahlhofen, two German scientists who studied photon tunneling. They had stumbled upon the ability to make certain photons, or light particles, travel significantly faster than light through an impassable barrier. To Virgil this discovery implied new possibilities about the very fabric of space and time. To me it implied new possibilities about the very handiness of flashlights and laser pointers. In other words, I didn’t really get it.
When I met with Virgil in his sterile white lab, I asked him to illuminate me on the importance of it all to him. Coming down to my level, Virgil explained, “There are some, my friend, who once hypothesized according to relativity that if something, whether particle of person, could be made to travel faster than the speed of light, then it could also experience Closed Time-Like Curves!”
“Oh,” I said. “What does that mean?”
“Time Travel!”
“Like, you could build an actual DeLorean?” I asked him.
Virgil explained to me the ins and outs of it all, most of which I didn’t understand, but I did comprehend that he had been experimenting with sending signals, or messages, instead of photons back into time. After a lengthy explanation, he asked me, “So, do you want to see it for yourself?”
I jumped at the opportunity to witness a physicist surpassing the 88 mph barrier into the past. He brought me to a strange contraption, made up of a computer connected to what looked like elaborate microscopes overlooking two glass prisms that were facing each other across a three-foot space; on the floor nearby were two small platforms, presumably to aid Virgil in using the microscopes due to his short stature. He typed something in, and powered it up, after which he said, “There, it’s happening!” But it didn’t look like anything had changed. Noticing the disappointed look on my face, Virgil explained to me that I needed to look into one of the electron microscopes to witness the miracle. What happened next would forever change me.
I walked around the computer to use the scope, but Virgil told me I needed to go on the other side to stand on the platforms. “No problem,” I said as I began to walk through the space betwixt the prisms.
“NO! DON—“ Virgil began to shout. But it was too late.

I blacked out.

When I woke up, I wasn’t sure how long I’d been out or if I’d even really woken up at all. Virgil’s quantum tunneling machine had done something to my vision—somehow I had lost my ability to see colour, and everything was darker—not just in the sense of light but ambiance. I felt like I was viewing scenes from a graphic novel, yet it was reality.
I didn’t recognize my surroundings at first until I looked around a bit. That carpet; that pool table; that overstuffed, old reclining chair in the corner of the living room by the dry bar—somehow I had ended up in my house in Sugar Land, Texas where I grew up as a kid. Virgil’s machine worked better than he thought—somehow I had come back in time!
I glanced down at the floor near the back door that led out to a garden and a pool, and there I was. Well, there was a five-year-old version of me sitting on the floor, getting ready to put on socks and shoes. Then I noticed my mom and sister standing in the kitchen waiting for me impatiently.
All of a sudden, the memory clicked, and I realized where I had come. Somehow I was in my own past, and I wasn’t too excited to know what was coming. I ran to my side, and hastily tried to explain to myself good technique for sock application, but my five-year-old self ignored me. Exasperated, I tried to pick up one of the socks to show him, but something was wrong. This flimsy, little sock was hard like granite and it seemed to weigh more than ten thousand socks combined; strain as I might, I could not make it budge at all.
What is wrong with this place? I wondered.
I tried to gain my own attention by tapping my own shoulder and was shocked by the same granite hardness; I tried to touch my hair and each strand was like immutable, steel thread of unreasonable weight and quality. It was then I realized that the boy could not hear me and that I could not do a thing but watch.
He grabbed a sock, and I cringed as I watched him quickly pull it onto his left foot, stretching the precious elastic in the sock’s neck. I wasn’t the only one who noticed. My mother, her patience at an end (if there was a beginning that day), approached and began to yell at the younger me.
“What are you doing?!” she yelled. “Don’t you even know how to put on your socks? Don’t you have any common sense? You’re ruining them!” My sister came to her side, arms crossed, to join in glaring at me intensely with an occasional eye roll.
My younger self looked up at them both, confused yet quiet. I remembered how he felt, how he felt stupid. I wanted to step between them and say to my family what I now know, “What are you talking about? Don’t you know that common sense is what people in community teach you? No baby is born with an innate ability to put on socks in a manner pleasing to you; he doesn’t know how to put them on the way you want, because you never taught him the way.” But I knew it would make no difference to these deaf specters. Besides the dim grays and overall lack of colours, this scene was very glum. As I continued to watch, my mom picked up and flung the sock, which grazed my right arm, the immense weight of its immutability tearing my flesh. It was just a surface wound, yet it bespoke one much deeper.
I turned to walk away and a very radiant man much like Virgil shocked my eyes, so used were they to the dim grays around them. I realized he was watching me, and what I could see of his face was warm and understanding. He came to my side and spoke first. He asked me how it felt to be in my past.
“Not good,” said I. “Do you know how I can get out of here?”
“Through that door,” he said, pointing to the back door.
“But I can’t open it. It’s too heavy for me. Sir, are you Virgil?”
“No, but I am like him in a way. You can call me that if you wish.”
“Oh, can you help me then?”
“I believe I can. I see you’re hurt; what foul thing inflicted that wound?” he asked.
“A sock.”
“No, no,” he corrected me, “the deeper thing.”
“Oh.” I felt like I could trust him. “Long ago, my mother yelled at me for not knowing how to put on my socks properly.”
“And how does that make you feel?”
“Stupid. Like a failure. Alone.” It felt silly to feel so much over a sock, yet it felt representative of so many times in my life—the time my mom told me she was leaving my dad the next day and that she had been talking to my sister about it for two months but not me; the two times my basement flooded and not knowing what to do I fled, unknowingly leaving wet, incriminating footprints behind; the time my sister blamed me for how my parents treated her our whole lives; the time I became depressed senior year of high school and lost my ranking and the respect of my teachers and family as well as my hope for life; so many times that I have acted selfishly or without love toward my wife. Times that still can make me feel like falling down and weeping. Times that make the city feel silent and empty and divided. It’s amazing how much meaning can be imbued in a kid’s sock.
As I spoke and remembered those times, my surroundings changed and I saw all of these bad memories happening around me at once—dim, gray, almost lightless, almost lifeless.
I felt like I would be crushed under the weight of them all happening at once. I wanted to ignore them, to push them aside, to say that they’re no big deal, that they’re not worth our time to look into. There are other things to look at, or people with worse experiences, or work to be done, or millions of possibilities to explore for others. Yet they were all around me, moving stones, harsh and unchanging.
The lustrous man like Virgil looked into my eyes. “I know. I’m honored that you would share such feelings with me. I want you to know that I hear you. I hear the story underneath all these parts of your life, the story of what’s going on inside you, the story that perhaps you feel like no one has ever truly read or understood or even seen at all; I see it.”
As he spoke, I thought I saw a flash of brilliant chartreuse in one of the scenes, but if it was really there, it was gone before I could make sense of it.
Then the man like Virgil said some things to me, quotes of great significance from things I have read over the years, things like: “I’m just a man like Elijah,” which reminded me of James who told us that Elijah was a man just like us and yet he was righteous; in that I knew that my rightness or lack thereof was not determined by my failures, but by something else, someone more. And “And yet all the loneliness, angers, hatreds, envies and itchings that [hell] contains, if rolled into one single experience and put into the scale against the least moment of the joy that is felt in Heaven, would have no weight that could be registered at all. Bad cannot succeed even in being bad as truly as good is good. If all Hell's miseries together entered the consciousness of yon wee yellow bird on the bough there, they would be swallowed up without trace, as if one drop of ink had been dropped into the great Ocean to which your terrestrial Pacific itself is only a molecule,” which gave me perspective on the immeasurable depth of joy and reminded me of Lewis’s idea that someday those things that once dragged us into hell on earth will become the very things that propel us deeper into Heaven and closer to God than we could ever go before. And “Dia, What are you doing? Dia! Look at me, look at me. What are you doing? You are Dia Vendy, of the proud Mende tribe. You are a good boy who loves soccer and school. Your mother loves you so much. She waits by the fire making plantains and red palm oil stew with your sister N'Yanda and the new baby. The cows wait for you. And Babu, the wild dog who minds no one but you. I know they made you do bad things, but you are not a bad boy. I am your father who loves you. And you will come home with me and be my son again,” lines from Blood Diamond which remind me of restored identity and the redemption that comes from love that risks. And “As Harold took a bite of Bavarian sugar cookie, he finally felt as if everything was going to be ok. Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies. And, fortunately, when there aren't any cookies, we can still find reassurance in a familiar hand on our skin, or a kind and loving gesture, or subtle encouragement, or a loving embrace, or an offer of comfort, not to mention hospital gurneys and nose plugs, an uneaten Danish, soft-spoken secrets, and Fender Stratocasters, and maybe the occasional piece of fiction. And we must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties, which we assume only accessorize our days, are effective for a much larger and nobler cause. They are here to save our lives. I know the idea seems strange, but I also know that it just so happens to be true. And, so it was, a wristwatch saved Harold Crick,” which speaks of a life awakening to find wholeness and joy like that never before experienced in this world in the same way. And many others like it.
As he shared each quote or thought which has held meaning for me and shaped how I view the world, I felt firmer and more whole and reconnected to the world as it should be and as I should be, and I began to see flashes of radiant colour at regular intervals in the scenes all around me. Finally, he said, “Son, I am with you in your suffering. You are not alone, you are not a failure in me.” And I saw a flash of light, and he was gone, and yet he was not. The room transformed once more.
I was in my old living room again, watching the sock incident all over again. This time, however, when my mom flung the sock, I welcomed the moment, held out my hand, and caught it as colour flooded back into the room more vivid and beautiful than anything I have ever seen in this world. My eyes were dazzled by the sight; it was like swimming in the most intimate secrets of light as it danced around me and warmed me deep inside. As the brilliant colours touched upon everything in the room and everything in my soul, the door lit up and quietly opened. I stepped through and woke up to the bright ceiling lights of the lab, and I noticed for the first time all the colours reflecting around the room from Virgil’s prisms.
Virgil helped me to my feet, asking, “Are you okay?”
“Virgil,” I said, overwhelmed with the urge to spew forth all the new joy and life and understanding that had just been matured within me, “I just want you to know that for some of us, the immutable strength and sharpness of our pasts dominate who we are today. We become enslaved to past experiences we may not even remember clearly, and worse yet, we fear to face those things out of anxiety that they might cut fresh wounds or even destroy us. But God walks with us into the suffering—he has, in fact, already walked alone into all Suffering—and while healing us and freeing us of its utter dominion over our lives, he does not wipe it all away but instead gives us new eyes to see the colours of abundant joy that were hidden in those painful memories. In other words, I’m great—I traveled back in time, and I can finally see in colour!”
“Um, perhaps you should sit down after all.”