For the Week of November 1, 2015: If You Could Turn Back Time

I awoke an hour early this morning, my head throbbing in pain.  I’d dutifully turned the clock back an hour before bed last night, but my body maintained its regular clock, oblivious to “Fall back.”  By six a.m., sunlight was creeping into the bedroom, and my headache intensified.  I groaned and covered my head with my pillow.  Normally an early riser, this morning I only longed for a “do-over,” a replay of the night before.  You see, I am a recovering chocoholic.  Like my father, I love chocolate.  But unlike my father, too much of it, and it triggers a migraine headache.  I’ve all but vanquished the throbbing chocolate-induced headaches for years now by simply eating very little of it.  Unfortunately, that was not the case last night.

I blame Halloween for my relapse.  Our neighborhood has never had many trick or treaters come to our doors on Halloween night.  Yet year after year, fearful I might end up unprepared, I buy a variety of treats—mostly chocolate ones—in case we get an unexpected rush.  That way, I tell my husband, I’ll be prepared for little ghosts and goblins knocking at my door.

This Halloween was no exception.  I spent the afternoon making the front porch ready: a “Happy Halloween” welcome sign,  lighted jack-o-lantern,  spider web on the front door, and a small orange-draped table with a large basket of treats placed next to a skull with a sign inside its mouth:  “Help Yourself.”

Alas, no one did.  That is, no one but my husband and me later in the evening.  I knew better.  This morning, I’ve paid the price.  “If I could turn back time,” I could practically hear Cher’s voice in my head, the beat throbbing in time to my headache as I lay in bed with an ice pack on my forehead.  If I could turn back time, I wouldn’t have eaten that chocolate.  I wouldn’t have bought as much of it as I did…I wouldn’t have…  One “if only” led to another.  Then I remembered an old black and white film from childhood; the protagonist was able to turn time back a full year, relive her life and correct her mistakes.  I’d been fascinated by the film, and now and again I daydream what it might be like to re-play certain life  events, take that other road Robert Frost wrote about, make different choices or take different actions than I did when I was younger.

I’m not alone in lingering in those lazy daydreams, wondering “what if,” had I chosen or acted differently.  Ben Franklin may have been responsible for introducing the concept of daylight saving time and moving the clock ahead an hour, but novelists, filmmakers, singers, science fiction writers, even poets have all 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.

In 1962, when Neil Sedaka wrote and recorded his signature tune, “Turning Back the Hands of Time,” it quickly became a hit, the lyrics capturing the longing we sometimes experience when 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…It’s not just my migraine that has me wishing I could do it.  I have fantasized from time to time, wondering what it would be like to turn back time and relive some of the events in my life.  I try not to dwell in the past or regret, but occasionally I‘ll wonder, “what if I’d just…” or “if only I had…”

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.)

I doubt anyone will be meeting me in Istanbul, but I still have now, the present, and whatever choices I make will influence the path my life takes in the years ahead.  Maybe the wisdom gleaned from mistakes of the past will help me make better choices, or maybe, just maybe, I’ll find contentment, gratitude for the life I’ve lived.  As for my headache, I can’t turn the clock back to last night.  I’m living with the very bad choice to snack on Halloween chocolates, and the best I can do today is take two more Excedrin and vow not to repeat my foolishness again.

Writing Suggestion:

Imagine, this week, that you were given free rein to that longing, what you would do if you could turn back time?  Are there events in your life you like to replay or do differently, knowing what you know now?  Write about it, 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 insights, the lessons you’ve learned from your life.

About Sharon A. Bray, EdD

Best known for her innovative work with cancer patients and survivors, Sharon is a writer, educator and author of two books on the benefits of expressive writing during cancer as well as personal essays, a children's book, magazine articles and the occasional poetry. She designed and initiated expressive writing programs at several major cancer centers, including Breast Cancer Connections, Stanford Cancer Center, Scripps Green Cancer Center and Moores UCSD Cancer Center. She continues to lead expressive writing groups for men and women living in the San Diego area and teach creative writing workshops and classes privately for UCLA extension Writers' Program. She previously taught professional development courses in therapeutic writing at Santa Clara University and the Pacific School of Religion, was a faculty member of the CURE Magazine Forums and at the Omega Institute in 2014. Sharon earned her doctorate from the University of Toronto and studied creative and transformative writing at Humber School for Writers, University of Washington, and Goddard College.
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