Rawlins Gilliland: Time Travel | KERA News

Rawlins Gilliland: Time Travel

No one is immune to the aging process, but commentator Rawlins Gilliland says to remain viable, you can't observe life passively. 

I was 38 years old the day I was born.  And nearly seven decades later, I’m still 38. I spent the first half of my life feeling like an undercover agent impersonating a kid and the second half living as a 40ish adult male mole infiltrating the world of senior citizens.  To friends not yet half my age, I describe myself as a young man born a long time ago.  A time traveler.

Genuine time travelers have an affectionate connection to the "now" of any time in which we live - even after they’ve grown more nose and ear hair than a chia pet. Time travelers avoid becoming aging versions of their former selves by remaining earnestly curious and determinedly resilient.  They evade rigid doctrines calcified peers equate with wizened maturity.  Time travelers get around.

It’s nice being 38 years old in 2012 when I was 5 years old in 1950 and 15 years old in 1960 and 25 years old in 1970.  Having known the look and feel - even the smell - of each post World War II decade, it’s easy to envy a time traveler’s accrued experience. Yet the secret behind my best stories is that I actually got up and went someplace to do something or see someone instead of after the fact saying, "I thought about it" or "I almost did." 

Historic time traveler interludes can be accidental as when I physically collided with Barbra Streisand on Grant Street in San Francisco when she was 28 years old filming What’s Up Doc.  Or when my clog shoe slipped off beneath the revolving door at Bergdorf Goodman in New York, trapping an annoyed Tony Bennett face to face one hour in 1970.  But more often it’s simply daring, as when I slept on the sidewalk to get a seat at what was then the biggest criminal trial in the world; that of heiress turned accused terrorist Patty Hearst in 1976.  Or, hiding to ascend the Acropolis at midnight to sleep in the Parthenon on my 28th birthday. 

A time traveler manages to dream even when immersed in grotesque reversals of fortune: my turning 20 as the sole prosecution witness to a murder, or an arsonist destroying my childhood home.  You’re unlikely to hear a time traveler say, "I’ll never get over it."  They don’t forget what happened but they allow any life-threatening wound to become a scar. No less than tree rings, scars are the time traveler’s tattoos. 

Too many of us treat life like it’s a DVD where anything we’ve missed can be instant replayed. Time travelers know better.  Nearly 50 years after I looked into JFK’s eyes on Main Street - minutes before he died in my hometown Dallas - friends, who said they’d join me that morning but failed to show, envy eyewitnesses to that beautiful then tragic parade.  They said they’d "try to go" or go "the next time."  Perhaps they misinterpret the maxim that "history repeats itself."’ But I learned that November day that life is a moment in time.  And that actually being there is a time traveler’s reason to live.

Rawlins Gilliland is a writer from Dallas.