To Turn Back Time

November 14, 2011

Some books can spoil readers with details, descriptions, flashbacks and footnotes.  Then, there is Hemingway.  His short story “Hills Like White Elephants” is rather like the unmarked script of a play.  With neither pages of back story nor physical descriptions, he gives us just the “man” and the “girl,” a nameless couple on a railway platform, sorting through their lives in sensuous, sweltering, post World War I Spain.  The actress within me is intrigued.  I yearn to understand these characters, to discover the tones of their dialogue, and as fancy may strike me to design their set.

I imagine the girl in those long, lonely years when she waited for life to begin.  Now the story has opened.  She is center stage.  She is lovely, and soul-weary; she wonders if there is really no more to life than to “look at things and try new drinks.”

She fingers a curtain of beads in her hand, and plays with the thought of turning back time.  If only things were just the way they were, when they measured their love in tongues of hot, rosy flame.  If only things were like they were before, when a girlish word and laughter could make the man her slave.

Looking out on the world, she wants only to hold it, to know its beauty, its wonders, its spells and its charms.  Yet her world has been marred, and her innocence lost.  “Once they take it away, you never get it back.”

And, there sits the man who might have opened her world.   A man of two continents, he has tasted all things yet never drunk deep.  He cares for her, but not for “it.”  His core of self can admit a place for the lover, but not for new life born of their love.

A train arrives; two faces disappear.  I wonder how their story will end.  I wonder how many girls of no name – yesterday, today, and tomorrow – give up everything to “turn back time”

Yes, it takes courage to choose life over self, to exchange known comforts for unknown beauty and rewards.  So we remember, as C.S. Lewis wrote, “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”