You’re Present, But Are You Here?

If you could be a superhero, what powers would you have?

A question that we all know, and have most likely asked at one point in our lives. There is a thrill behind this question that derives from the anticipation of the answer. For some reason, it is very telling of a person once we hear their desired power. We also love to debate afterwards, desperate to prove to the other that our power is the clear superior choice. Upon seeing this question, you probably already came up with an answer, and I will contend with you that any power other than time manipulation is an absolute waste. Unless, of course, you are that one person who has to ruin it for everyone by claiming that you would want your power to be one that allowed you to absorb the power of others. If that was the case, take your non-imaginative self elsewhere.

I am a firm believer that time manipulation is the most superior power because it obviously trumps the other powers available.  It is clearly a jack of all trades. The other popular powers can easily be defeated through flashing forward to the future, or skimming back to the past. No matter what power, time can find a way to defeat it.

Time is the only thing that keeps us going, and it is ultimately the one thing that stops us. We are obsessed with time. Always searching for ways to do more with less.

I would love to time travel. To be able to visit my past self and grant myself with advice. Some simple: cheetah print and velour do not make a good combination for pants. Some far more complex: stock up on naked chicken chalupas because there are some dark times ahead. I would travel to the future to answer questions burning inside me: Who will be our next president? How is Scandal going to end? Will we have VR theaters?  In the Year 3000, has much changed except living underwater?

Yet if there is one thing that movies have taught me, it is that time travel cannot happen (we all live vicariously through movies so don’t knock me). In the movies, science is never the issue. After all, why should it be? We have phones that talk to us, hover boards, and we can transmit information from a computer onto a piece of paper in a matter of seconds. Time travel cannot exist because we cannot handle it. In the movies, the time traveler always realizes that there are consequences for pulling at the thread of time. Nothing ever goes the way as planned, and the hero ultimately realizes that it is not the past or future that needs changing, but the present, and how they currently view it.

So why in a society so fixated on time do we choose to hope and reflect rather than live in the now?

“The present changes the past. Looking back you do not find what you left behind.”

– Kiran Desai

The reason we adore the past is quite simple. The past is selective: “According to Alan R. Hirsch in his report, “Nostalgia: A Neuropsychiatric Understanding,” nostalgia is a yearning for an idealized past — “a longing for a sanitized impression of the past, what in psychoanalysis is referred to as a screen memory — not a true recreation of the past, but rather a combination of many different memories, all integrated together, and in the process all negative emotions filtered out’” (Elite Daily). When we recollect memories, we manipulate them in the process, and because of this, that one memory of our birthday is a tad better than the actual event. In fact, each time we go back to that birthday, the moment changes up until the very point that it can no longer be classified as a memory. Realistic fiction probably. Memoir, not quite. We dream of the past because it is literally a dream.

“I’m looking forward to the future, and feeling grateful for the past.”

– Mike Rowe

We already know that the unknown intrigues us, which is a huge part in the future’s appeal. Perhaps the future fascinates us because of its potential, causing an “optimistic, extreme positivity bias toward the future. . .To the point that people “always say future events are more important to their identity and life story than the past events. Talk about being nostalgic for the future” (The Atlantic).  It reminds us that despite the helplessness we often feel, we can ignite change. Today might be horrible, but if we get through it, there is a better tomorrow. When I was at the tail end of undergrad, I was working part-time, attending school full-time, and student teaching. I would rush from my teaching site, to classes, to close up the store – just to get home to grade or begin an assignment due the following week. I told myself that it was temporary and promised myself a tomorrow where my life would not be like that. Here I am, 5 years later and my life is pretty much all work and no play. Where did I go wrong? Probably when I began investing all my time in the future without distributing any to my present. I viewed the present as a means to get to my destination. Yet the question constantly burning inside me was: Am I there yet? What future was I working toward? At first it was completing my BA, then my MA, then my first year of teaching, now until I get tenure. We like looking at the future because it gives us a reason to ignore the present. In the present, time is limited. Looking at the future, time suddenly seems limitless.

“It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.”

– George Harrison

Despite our longing for the past and dreams of the future, we are constantly advised to live in the present. Yet the present is not equipped with the nostalgic feeling that we find in either the past or future. Time is cyclical but not equal. We wish for time travel without even knowing that we already are time travelers: the present is a culmination of the past and future. The present is constantly fleeting and generating. In this very moment, the first lines of this sentence exist in the past while the rest remain in the present, as my next sentence exists in the future. That is, until I have completed it, and until you read it.

Time travel cannot exist because once it is apparent that we have a hold of the past and future, we will no longer crave it – just as we reject the obtainable present. I mentioned nostalgia in this post, but I think now is an appropriate time to examine its definition:

“a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homelanda sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time” (Dictionary).

It is pointless to reiterate how nostalgia and the past are linked, so let’s focus on the future. Although nostalgia is deeply rooted in what has happened, it’s connection to the future is simple. The future, since it is yet to exist, has been imagined. Notice the past tense? We will always yearn for the two, yet as the wise prophet West was once quoted: “You never know what you got ’til it’s gone, I guess that’s why I’m here and I can’t come back home.” It’s time to make the present our home while we still can.

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