Once upon a time (back in the day) I was little. On one such day, I recall laying down to go to sleep and I closed my eyes one moment and the very next, it was morning. I remember being quite startled at the experience. I didn’t even feel rested. It had simply felt as if I had blinked, and where once it was dark the night before, it was now daylight the morning after.
The entire day, I contemplated the nature of this experience. At recess, instead of attempting to kick a soccer ball into a neighboring field filled with cows (as one does), I thought intensely about the meaning and the cause of my eye-opening moment the day prior. And then, the only rational explanation occurred to me…
I had obviously traveled through time.
I had long been enamoured by the idea of time traveling, and so the realization of my newfound powers made me giddy with excitement. I told everyone who would listen, and as I was a young lad with a strong sense of fairness, everyone who wouldn’t. I would attempt to stand in place and blink my eyes rapidly, such that I could speed time along. Even when falling asleep took more than a blink or two, I would wake up feeling accomplished, as each morning was further confirmation of my time traveling powers.
Over time, my powers seemingly grew stronger. Instead of going to sleep and waking up the following day, suddenly one falls asleep, and a week has passed…then a month. Then a year.
Before you know it, each blink of an eye spans an ever-expanding length of time. Upon reflection, the entirety of my elementary school career could be captured by a series of moments that I could probably fit into the space of an afternoon.
Something else begins to expand as well – the gap between where you are and where and when you wish you would be. As you grow out of childhood, you spend more and more time wishing to be older, to travel to the future. As you grow into adulthood, you spend more and more time wishing to be younger, to travel to the past. You sit in your room staring at your laptop screen trying to finish that assignment, and try as you might, your mind is elsewhere. You are in a future where you have graduated and have a high-paying job in a big city. You are in the past, before the overwhelming stresses of university set in, before the ceaseless series of deadlines that litter your calendar. You are at another school. You are back at home.
You are anywhere but here; anytime but now.
But nature abhors a vacuum. That void between where you are now, in this moment, and where you otherwise wish you would be begins to fill with one particle of disappointment and regret at a time. It becomes harder and harder to appreciate the present, to savor the immediacy of your circumstance.
I used to daydream, as I think many do, about what I would do if I were to wake up not tomorrow, but in some distant yesterday. It’s pretty standard fare. The lottery tickets. Buying stocks in an early Facebook. Impressing friends by fortelling the future.
More so than any of those things, however, I would take the time to thank the people in my life who made it better. I would visit my social studies teacher, who taught me as much about what it means to act with integrity as the reasons why the Roman civilization collapsed. I would thank my neighbor, who let me stay over and have cookies while I waited for my parents to come home. I would thank everyone who took the time to be kind to me they when did not have to, when I was too self-absorbed to notice, and worse yet, too selfish to respond in kind. What I failed to realize at the time was that this was as close as I was going to be to most of the people that were in my life then; that this was and would likely forever be the best opportunity I would have to say something to them. Time passes, and our once overlapping social orbits begin to disentangle and slowly drift apart. Soon they’re so far away that they become small specks of light, indistinguishable from the impossibly distant background of stars.
It occurs to me then, as I again mentally travel to a faraway place and long-ago time, that the situation I find myself now is altogether not that much different. At some point, today will become exactly such a yesterday. In some tomorrow, I will reminisce about the wonderful people I know today. The great cafeteria staff, the faculty. My friends at the bookstore, at registration, at the First Nations Centre, the library, and the security guards just to name a few. But most of all, it is the students here that make all the stress and strain of academia not only bearable but outright enjoyable.
Except this time, it is different. For all the imperfections of my present circumstances, the profs who harbor maddeningly high expectations, the thin walls in residence, the ideal study spots that are somehow always taken, the long treacherous walk up to Keyoh, the perverse paradox of paying for the privilege of being too busy to work; for the first time in my life, I am choose to time-travel less. Instead of blinking as frequently in the hopes of passing time, I am keeping my eyes open longer. Much to my surprise, it turns out that wherever you may be, there is a lot to see.
Tomorrow offers no guarantees, and yesterday no refunds. And as for my time-traveling powers? They’re still intact. I used to wish that I would travel to the future, to a place I would adore, surrounded by people I adore even more.
And that, dear reader, here at UNBC in 2021…
Is exactly when, and where, I am.