I awakened with the light this morning, at first, thinking I’d overslept, but then remembering the time change. For weeks, I’ve been waking and dressing in darkness before taking our terrier, Maggie, out for her morning walk. But this morning was already light as we went outside. Maggie trotted happily along, stopping to pick up seeds and stones to toss and chase as I smiled as we welcomed the sunrise. Around us, the houses were quiet as neighbors slept, happy for an extra hour this Sunday morning as clocks everywhere were turned back an hour.
Cher’s voice, belting out the lyrics “If I could turn back time,” played in my mind as we began walking. It made me wonder, as I do each autumn, how it might be to have a “do-over,” to really turn back time and live events in my life differently…like taking the other road at the fork Robert Frost wrote about, a different set of choices than the ones I made so long ago. Maggie romped and I followed, indulging my daydreams, the “what ifs” of my life. What if…I’d chosen a different university that the one I did, or if my first husband and I had taken the offer in Colorado instead of the one in Canada… Or if I’d stayed in Halifax for graduate school instead of going to Toronto, or if my present husband and I hadn’t decided to return to California …or if…
I’m not alone in those lazy daydreams, wondering what life would have been like if I’d chosen or acted differently. Ben Franklin may have been responsible for introducing daylight saving time, but novelists, filmmakers, singers, science fiction writers, and poets have long been intrigued with the idea of turning back time. Think of H.G. Wells’ 1895 novella, The Time Machine, adapted for film, radio and television many times since its publication, Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future, or Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Fox’s character traveled to the past in an attempt to influence the outcomes of life in the future. Murray’s arrogant, self-absorbed news reporter was doomed to repeat the same day over and over until he learned to care about others’ lives. Ken Grimwood’s protagonist in his novel, Replay dies of a heart attack in 1988 and awakens as an eighteen year old in 1963 with a chance to relive his life, although his memories of the next twenty-five years remain intact. He replays his life and death, each time awakening in 1963 before he realizes he can’t prevent his death, but he can change the events for himself and others before it happens.
When Neil Sedaka wrote and recorded his signature tune, “Turning Back the Hands of Time,” in 1962, it quickly became a hit, the lyrics capturing the longing many of us experience as we look back over our lives.
Turning back the hands of time
To see the house I lived in,
To see the streets I walked on…
To touch the face of friends and loved ones,
To hear the laughter and to feel the tears,
What a miracle this would be,
If only we can turn the hands of time…
If only we could turn back the hands of time…Let’s face it, we all daydream about it from time to time, but when we open our eyes, we’re still faced with the life we have now. How many times have you begun a sentence with the words, “if only I had…” and wished you did something differently, could rediscover that “simpler time,” a place you loved, see old friends, a deceased parent or grandparent, or have a chance to choose differently that you did, return to a time before illness or loss dominated your daily life …if only you could turn back time.
Next time I won’t waste my heart
on anger; I won’t care about
being right. I’ll be willing to be
wrong about everything and to
concentrate on giving myself away.
Next time, I’ll rush up to people I love,
look into their eyes, and kiss them, quick…
and I will keep in touch with friends,
writing long letters when I wake from
a dream where they appear on the
Orient Express. “Meet me in Istanbul,”
I’ll say, and they will.
(“Next Time” by Joyce Sutphen, from After Words. © Red Dragonfly Press, 2013.)
Imagine, this week, that you were given free rein to that longing, write about what you would do if you could turn back time? What events in your life would you replay? What might you do differently, knowing what you know now? Write about it—without constraint or apology, beginning with the line “If I could turn back the hands of time…” and let it take you into that memory or longing. Once finished, read what you’ve written and then write again—but this time, with an eye to discovering the gratitude for the life you have.