The early morning sun soaked the woods with a yellow light, bathing the fading green-brown foliage with a burnished bronze. I drove along the winding course of Deck Hill Road just outside Boone, North Carolina through mountains clothed in the multi-colored, leafy quilt of autumn.
But wait! It was actually November in Alabama. My 67 year-old self was driving along Rocky Ridge Road in Birmingham, but the landscape through which I drove had plunged me into my senior year at Appalachian State University. I knew I was in Alabama. I knew I was a veritable senior citizen, not a college senior philosophy major, and that the trees, warm sunlight, and winding flat top were in Jefferson County, Alabama not the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
But I was as good as there, in that 45-year distant October. I was my 22 year old self feeling the wheel of my 1962 Chevy Impala and the coolness of the breeze through the open window even though I was driving my 2017 Subaru Outback and the windows were up. I smelled fallen leaves and the faint aroma of rhododendron. I felt sadness for a relationship that had ended, and even felt a shot of anxiety regarding an incomplete writing assignment. My guitar in its case lay on the back seat and in a few more miles, I’d turn onto US Rt. 321 heading southeast toward Charlotte.
All of that enveloped me in the unguarded instant I saw the early morning, November sunlight flood the autumnal woods. The 22 year-old me was suddenly present with all his desires and insecurities.
I know I’m speaking poetically, but I believe in time warps. When I first met my wife and saw her stunning green eyes, a shy teenaged Drexel popped out and fiddled with my speech patterns. It didn’t matter that 50 years, multiple advanced degrees, international travel, and some serious therapeutic counseling had transpired to shape my adulthood. Emotional energy from 1971 oozed into 2015. For an instant, the teenager poked his head out. Time warped. Now, I successfully sent him back to the cellar of my brain where he’d been sleeping and recovered my relatively articulate self, but that kid sure FELT real for that quick instant.
Later I decided to enter into an intentional time warp and have a conversation with that intrusive teenager. I said, “You never imagined that I – you, me, we – could ever talk with a beautiful woman like that, huh? And then ask her out on a date!” And he responded, “Wow! I’m impressed! I’m so glad you’ve learned your lesson!” And I said, “Yeah, I’m glad we know it now and sorry we didn’t know it then. We’re better than we ever gave ourselves credit for!” Since then, that teenager has mostly respected his place back there in 1971 and the progress the adult has made since. But sometimes, still, when I get stressed, that boy rouses in other ways. Emotions that derailed the life of an undeveloped teenager begin to emerge. It always helps to remember that in those instances, I’m allowing an unintentional time warp to misshape my present. That can really cloud how I view the future.
So I entered into an intentional time warp and took my present self to sit in the Chevy with my 22 year-old self. I remembered how at that time I deeply longed to be elsewhere. I remembered the young man who wanted to live anywhere BUT Boone, North Carolina. I then reminded the 22 year-old me that not long after that autumn drive through the Blue Ridge, while living through a gray, rainy, cold Austrian winter, he grew to miss Boone and those mountains. I then recalled the words of one of the “Desert Fathers” from the early centuries of the Christian movement. As pilgrims would flee the cities envying the solitude of the monks, this particular wise man is said to have advised, “Never be too eager to leave where you are.” And I asked 22 year-old Drexel, “Why are you so eager to leave where you are?”
So, the time warp that had me driving through North Carolina on Deck Hill Road way back then served to illuminate the beauty of Rocky Ridge Road in Jefferson County, Alabama where I live now. After all, the beauty of that past scene came to mind because the corresponding beauty of the present had such real power. I said to the 22 year-old Drexel, “These beautiful trees here in Alabama remind me of the lessons I hadn’t yet learned while viewing the beautiful trees in North Carolina. I’m not going to let emotions rooted in a time warp distort my life now.” And I drove on down to the medical center aware that I was wrapped in beauty right now!
Our souls live in a timelessness bigger than past restrictions. We can grow into a much larger, joyous, and thriving present. And that sure makes the future look bright!