Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Back to the Future

At the state house this spring legislators argued for a bill that would change Maine’s time zone from Eastern to Atlantic. Sponsors say the move, which would place the country’s eastern most state into a time zone shared by Nova Scotia and Puerto Rico, would provide increased economic opportunities and less energy consumption in addition to offering more daylight in the afternoon and evening, especially during winter months.

The story caught my attention for many reasons; first, if enacted, changing time zones would be one of most significant changes in people’s lives in Maine in a lifetime, and second, I think the story is symbolic of our persistent search for ways to harness, understand, and control time. But can moving our clocks ahead an hour really give us what we want? Maybe, maybe not, but we humans, modern humans to be more precise, have a fatal fascination with time travel, immortality, and youthfulness.

One of my favorite movies is Robert Zemeckis’ 1985 classic, Back to the Future. In it, the hero, Marty McFly, jumps into a supped-up DeLorean (a sleek sports car from the 80’s), complete with blinking lights, plutonium, and a device called the Flux Capacitor, invented by Marty’s eccentric friend, Doc Brown, which makes time travel possible. The car is stand in for a time machine, and 17-year old Marty is unwittingly transported back to 1955 as he out runs a group of Libyan terrorist in a Mall Parking lot. Once back in time, Marty reconnects with Doc Brown, and his would be parents 30 years in the past and has to play matchmaker to bring them together so he can exist in the future. Thus is the paradox of time travel.

I’m all for brighter days between November to March, especially since the sun is barely visible for 8 short hours each day, when it’s not cloudy or snowing. I’m also attracted to the idea of forming a stronger allegiance between our Canadian neighbors, Nova Scotia, the birthplace of my mother’s parents and ancestors, a place I visited as a child, once thinking it was exotic simply because it was in a completely different time zone. I eventually learned the truth, Nova Scotia was only a few hundred nautical miles from Boston, where I lived, and I could even listen to the Red Sox on a small radio when I visited Canada in the early 70’s. Time, I learned from early age, was indeed relative.

As part of my job, I regularly attend and present at conferences advocating on behalf of the LGBTQ community, and every time is different. Recently, after a panel discussion on Aging Creatively, a gentle looking and soft-spoken older man asked me if I wouldn’t mind speaking with him in private. We exited the banquet hall through the server’s door in the rear of the half-filled room of LGBTQ elders and found a spot in the beige colored hallway that lead to the kitchen to talk. The gentleman looked faintly familiar. He was probably in his mid to late sixties, his skin was pale and body unformed, like a butternut squash left in garden all winter to freeze and thaw.

After quick introductions we figured out we had indeed met a few years back; it was when I was speaking to gay men’s group, a vestigial remnant from the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980’s.  I often look back at that time in my life with bittersweet memories. As a young adult and before I embraced my identity as a woman, I assumed a was a gay man, and why wouldn’t I have, I enjoyed, and continue to enjoy flirting, kissing, and having sex with men. But the virus never took hold in me, like it did Jhan, one of my first boyfriends, who by the end of his life, accepted his fate, stopped taking his drugs, and died, like we all will, just fucking too soon.

After getting our introductions out of the way, he asked if he could share something very private with me. I agreed, as this is has become a regular request; it feel like I’ve become a traveling quasi therapist, but without the degrees or series of letters after my name. He leaned in close, and as the faint scent of Gray Flannel floated between us, he whispered in my right ear, “when I dream, I always dream of himself as a woman. Always have.”

He pulled back for a second, then leaned back in again, “do you think this means I’m transgender?” he asked with the utmost sincerity.

I breathed in his fragile words, letting them fall gently into my consciousness, like I was trying to catch large brown oak leaves in my hands, slowly descending to earth, without crushing them.

Smiling  back, I exhaled. “I don’t know what your dreams means” I shared, hesitantly. “Have you talked to anyone else about this, your partner, a therapist perhaps?”

“No, you’re the first person I’ve ever mentioned it to.”

His words shook me, and it took me a moment to reply, “Thank you, I’m honored, really, I mean it. Thank you for trusting in me”

I asked a few more questions “were there any other clues or breadcrumbs you’ve noticed looking back, other feelings related to your dreams?

“Well…I’ve never felt completely happy, and I wonder if this is part of it, maybe I am … really a woman” he replied with some reservation.

I kept my eyes connected with his, and could see that he was scared. I reached my hands out in front of me, palms up, and he placed is baby soft hands in mine, and we gently held each other, quietly for moment. I then tried to reassure him by saying “it’s going to be alright, it will” and as I was saying those words, a server approached us from the kitchen; so we let our hands drop to allow him to pass.

We talked for a few more minutes and out of nowhere he began to recall other moments from his childhood, pictures, magazines, and even dresses. The doors had been unlocked, and with that, there was a twinkle in his eyes, a light, a child perhaps, calling out to him from his past, sailing between the two of us on the river of time.