Today’s writing prompt was “If you had a time machine and you could return to one point in your life, where would you go and why?”
My first reaction to this game is always, “What’s the POINT?” It’s silly to think that I could go back and change a major event in my life. The whole skein unravels if I tug on one thread and I like where I am now. Even with sadness that I’ve known, how could I push it away without pushing away the gladness? Would I go back to that day in grad school when I first laid eyes on Fartbuster? Or to the day I found out he was cheating? Why? If I weren’t that broken-hearted person I became because of loving him, I wouldn’t have been on the side of the highway that morning that I met Richard. And he wouldn’t have had me beside him when he died. I can’t have one without the other. It’s all one life.
Maybe I could revisit a time in my life when I had a clean house and nine hours of sleep a night, but I would undo the tired joys of having two people who light up when they say “Mama!”
As I was pondering this, my friend Robin sent me a Wendell Berry poem:
No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
You have become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now, and always.
And so you have become a sort of tree
standing over the grave.
Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes, young, to disappear
forever, and yet remain
unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away.
~ Wendell Berry ~
(The Sabbath Poems, 1993, I)
“Every day you have less reason not to give yourself away.” So where would I go in my time machine? I don’t want to undo anything, but there is one time I wish I had said Yes instead of No. When I held myself close instead of being open. A small sadness but one that has stuck with me. Here’s when I would go now that I have less reason not to give myself away:
Paris. December 28, 2005. A chilly gray morning in a small park by the Eiffel Tower. It was the third day of my solo trip to Paris and I had my feet under me. I’d seen the view from the top of the Tour back when I was 21 and in Paris for the first time. So that morning, as a widow waking up to the world again, I avoided the crowds and barkers near the base of the attraction and walked farther away. To get some perspective.
My hands were jammed into the pockets of my black cashmere coat, the one I bought just for that trip so I could look more French and less American. A red and yellow crushed velvet scarf warmed my throat. Just a woman, walking in Paris. On her own.
I stopped to watch a group of elderly men playing petanque. It’s like bocce or lawn bowling, but French. There’s one small ball in the middle of the sandy court and each player throws larger metal balls at it in the hopes of tapping the “jack.”
They chided each other after bad throws. Their laughter billowed in clouds in the frozen air. Their heads were covered with black wool berets. They rubbed their hands together to keep them warm and blew hot air into them while they waited turns. They whooped like little boys and clapped at a masterful toss. They argued among themselves over the close calls.
They were busy enjoying each other and didn’t seem to mind that I was watching them. I watched them for several minutes as my still feet grew colder and colder. It was time to get back to walking before I froze in place. I pulled my camera from my messenger bag and took a few snapshots of their game.
Then, in the way of French men who love all kinds of women, even the sad and dark, one of them signaled to me to come over. I smiled broadly but didn’t come any closer. Another grandpere turned to me with a friendly wave and invited me to join the game. I laughed out a “Non, merci!”
Then I continued my walk.
That’s the moment I would return to. I would say “Oui, s’il vous plait! Merci!” I would let myself be welcomed. I would let myself be awkward and silly.
I would give myself away. Un petit cadeau.
Here’s a gift for you to share with someone today.
If you’d like to read other “time travel” stories, check them out over at My So-Called Glamorous Life.