Years ago, I read the Time Traveler’s Wife. And I cried.
Just tonight, I watched the movie. And I cried.
I cried for the beauty of a seemingly impossible relationship. Not the one between the time traveler and his wife …though that did pull on my little HSP heart strings. No…I cried in response to the beauty of the shared relationship between the time traveler and himself.
The story is about a man who involuntarily travels in time. He can’t control when it will happen. And he can’t control the “when”that he will land on. There are patterns. He seems to keep coming back to set places that have significance in his memory. His character says “They are places that behave like gravity. Places that keep pulling me back…or forward…in time to the same location.” The episodes of traveling are induced by stress, alcohol, and a number of other factors. And never with his consent.
The first time he “travels” he is a little boy. It’s in a moment of trauma. He is disoriented, confused and afraid.
Fortunately, an older version of himself is there to comfort him. Quickly, his older self explains, to the best of his ability, what is happening. And he leaves his child self with a promise to return and help whenever he can.
His older self returns on numerous occasions to help him learn to pick pockets and locks. To steal clothes and fight his way out of dangerous situations.
Why would that be necessary?
Well…because when he “travels” it’s not like his clothes come with him. He frequently lands in areas that require him to find shelter quickly. And clothes. It’s humiliating. Not everyone is entirely understanding of a naked man appearing out of nowhere in a public place.
Anyway – THIS is why I found the whole thing touching. On each occasion, when the main character is presented with another version of himself, he is forever extending compassion. He offers himself friendship. Guidance. Understanding. He is also able to laugh at himself.
In one point of the story, the time travler’s wife laments to an older version of her husband how frustrated she is with her younger husband. She wants the older and wiser version. His older self says “try to be patient.” His older self begs her “go easy on him.”
I think we HSP are time travelers of a sort. We have vivid recollections of times in our lives that had gravity and emotional depth. So vivid, in fact, it can often be as though we are actually there…in the memory. Reliving it over and over again.
When we make mistakes, we travel in time to relive it.
When we cause another person pain, we travel. Multiple times. And relive it.
Where there is extraordinary joy, we travel. And we relive it.
We are also able to travel, in a sense, to the future. We take all of our decisions and draw pathways to the likely future scenario. We have vivid imaginations and are capable of mapping out every possibility. Or at least…many possibilities. It keeps our impulses in check. We know we need to be careful lest the wrong future unfold in front of us.
Often, like the character in this story, our travels are involuntary and unwanted. But as with the time traveler not all of it is nightmarish. Sometimes our ability to travel back in our memory can be tremendously beautiful. It’s just that the memories we hold where we perform poorly…the ones we are ashamed of…well – those travels are especially excruciating .
I was actually speaking with a colleague of mine about this just this afternoon. There is something physically painful about making a mistake that causes someone else discomfort or pain. I have put my foot in my mouth on a number of occasions. Every time I “travel” back to that memory, I cringe.
But this story gives me a moment of pause. Any time the time traveler is presented with another younger or older version of himself…he never shames himself. He simply offers the best advice he can. He offers support at every turn.
This is, perhaps, what we HSP can learn from the time traveler. We HSP might be sensitive, but we aren’t perfect. We are emotional creatures capable of making egregious errors.
But here is the thing…as we “travel” and review our idiotic past selves or review a moment of cruelty or negligence, we can take heart in this one fact…
If we are “traveling” to these memories, it means it has significance to us. Because we learned something valuable from it.
If we regret it, it must mean we have a conscience. We can’t be truly terrible people if we feel this badly about a memory. We can’t be terrible people if these moments keep popping up in our awareness.
Perhaps the best thing we can do is behave as the time traveler does. We can laugh at ourselves. We can try our best to support ourselves. And most importantly, we can be patient with ourselves.