What My 9th-Grade History Teacher Got All Wrong (or, Time is not Linear)

Sidewalk Chalk from Flickr via Wylio
© 2009 John Morgan, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

I remember being a freshmen in high school, a bundle of nerves and hormones on the first day. I remember going into History class and sitting in the back – I was not a front-of-the-class kind of guy. The teacher was a young lady out of college only a few years, and to start off the class she took a small piece of chalk and, beginning on the far left side of the front chalkboard, drew a long straight line. It stretched through that dark background, finite and sharp.

Then she went back and listed off some of the more important events in the history of North America during that time: exploration, revolution, independence, Civil War, industrial revolution, Vietnam. Etcetera, etcetera. Event after event, and we sat there taking it all in. Five hundred years in twenty feet.

But now, 23 years later, I have to smile when I think of that long straight line. That’s not how time works.

* * * * *

My parents dropped off a box yesterday full of old game systems from my growing up years: Atari 2600, Sega Genesis, Nintendo 64. My kids thought Christmas had come early, so tonight we broke out the N64 and I introduced them to the greatness that is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. They were as impressed as I had been when I first played that game as a senior in college.

We turned on the game, and there it was: SHASHMAI. The mashed-up username my girlfriend, my sister and I had used to save our progress. Shawn, Ashley, Maile. Our old game was still on there, 16 years later. I had flashbacks of playing that game in my parents basement (then making out with Maile). I remembered it was a game Maile and I had enjoyed even after we were first married and living in Florida, far from our family and friends.

In that moment, time circled back on itself. Maile came into the room, sat down with Leo on her lap, and smiled.

“We never imagined we’d be playing that with our five children, did we?”

Time is not a long straight line, flying past us. Time is a circle, always rotating, always doubling back, taking your breath away with its unexpected returnings.

* * * * *

Later in the night I began to load the dishwasher, but I can’t do such mundane work without music, so I went into the dining room and turned on David Gray.

Please forgive me if I act a little strange
For I know not what I do

And suddenly I was back in England again, driving the Mini out of London after a fourteen hour work day. Or I was sitting in our little dining room with Maile, just the two of us again, starting a new life 3500 miles from anything familiar. Or we were hitting a pub on a Saturday night with Ben and Shar, or friends from church, ordering Bangers and Mash, Shepherd’s Pie, or Lemon Chicken with Breaded Mushrooms.

For a moment, one sweet fleeting moment, I was there again! I was! Right back there in the dreary winter weather and the fireplace. I was splitting wood in the winter and listening to the lambs in the spring just outside our window.

Time is not a long straight line on a blackboard. Time returns for those who are vigilant.

One Reply to “What My 9th-Grade History Teacher Got All Wrong (or, Time is not Linear)”

  1. Zelda brings back good memories of my parents basement in their old home, and me and Chad trying to figure out all of the puzzles and taking turns trying to beat “the bosses.” But also the music from the game is just as good. It brings me the same warm fuzzies that Christmas music brings every year.

    Man I love that game. Time to search ebay.

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