The Time Traveler’s Lament | 5

C. Louise Williams
4 min readAug 6, 2021
Photo by Ahmad Odeh on Unsplash

It is time now, dear reader, for me to disabuse you of any archaic notions you may have of time travel. For years, centuries — millennia — we have all been placed inside of boxes with colorfully painted interiors, no windows, no doors, and told that the box itself was the extent of what is possible. The trees and daylilies on those walls, the rabbits and crows, immaculately detailed certainly, were created simply as background.

“Look upon the life around you for its beauty, we are told, but keep moving. The world around you exists only as pleasing aesthetic whilst you run from destination to destination, back and forth without end.” The rat race, they call it.

You see, my friend, we are always time traveling. We accelerate faster and faster through into the future with less and less payoff, until the present itself has been eclipsed by our own desire to escape it.

I step into my car for work and drive faster than my body could ever move hope to move on its own. I place cold food in my microwave — food that would have taken an hour or more, perhaps, to thaw — and it is hot and ready to consume in less than three minutes. It is even said that we workers are now four to five times more productive than our predecessors, with much less pay off, now hyper-productive in terms of making money that we will never touch nor enjoy.

And time is money, is it not?

The present is a gift that has been torn from our hungry arms, dear reader, and that is the purpose of my presence here, in this timeline. Either the present exists in perpetuity — and all that we have done within it — or it is but a blip, an anomaly that barely has time to manifest before it is gone.

And all that exists now — in this purgatory we have made our home — is an infinite past from which to learn our mistakes — billions of years older than my measly twenty-eight (and how many seconds have existed before me, my god!) — and an infinite future that we strive for: always seeing, but never touching or tasting or loving or experiencing.

We have been time traveling our whole lives, oscillating between past and future so quickly that we have become numb to our cognitive dissonance, the resolution of which is the only solution to finding an acclimating again to the true present.

Dear reader, close your eyes a moment and listen, if it is safe. What do you hear? For me, it is cars zipping by on the freeway, a fan whirring in my room, my orange tabby cat adjusting herself in her sleep.

Now open your eyes, what do you see? I see a darkened room, a bright white computer screen, the chipped paint of my purple nail polish, my bare skin.

In this moment, as we slow down and affix ourselves to our own present condition, what thoughts return to you first? Where does your reality take you when you begin to step outside of the present, as by habit and by manufactured necessity? For me, it is the dream that I had so many years ago, that gave me a glimpse into my true current condition.

I was in a sparsely populated cafeteria, eating and relaxing, having just finished some laborious task. Suddenly, a flustered man comes to me and says “They’ve done it again.” Immediately I know that a child has been placed ‘in the line’ — a long procession of beings preparing to be ‘plugged in’ to what I can only call the reincarnation machine.

Even having just returned myself, I immediately spring up and run to covertly switch places with the child. I approach the little one and see that she is shaking with fear. They had told her “what an honor it is, to be chosen to go before your time!” As they had once told me. I tell her “I can go for you, and they will never know.” I will not tell you how we managed this, dear reader, for that is a trade secret, but know it was a success.

Now, that which is most important for you to know. Upon entry into the machine, you step onto a treadmill with a floor-to-ceiling screen in front of you, and on either side. You are plugged in and the sequence begins when you begin to walk, run, or crawl on the tread mill. The more you move, the more immersed you become, until all that exists is the reality projected on the screens.

Even the treadmill has been forgotten, the wires affixed to your body, the clothes you wear, your identity, your body itself — all lost to the reality projected before and about you.

And that is, according to my dream at least, that which precedes what some might call incarnation.

Your own personal box in which to exist. Your own personal device, upon which to work endlessly to maintain your own immersion in a reality that it seems we have collectively come to resent. Hyper-productive, creating time, expanding universes, and remaining bound up at the edge of eternity — as long as eternity will last for us limited creatures in any case —

The trick, my friend, is not learning how to time travel. It is remembering to stop.

And I am still learning how.