Present Yesterday

(An edited version of this post will be submitted for publication at Jacinta Hin’s Embrace Transition FaceBook page.

One of my favorite novels is the time travel classic, Replay, by the late Ken Grimwood.

Here’s an appreciation I wrote over three years ago:

Would Time Travelers Set Goals?

The plot is ingeniously simple but the consequences rip and ripple through time and space, affecting many. I’ve read Replay several times and, in response to the events of 3/11, feel drawn to do so again.


Because, in a strange mash up of fact and fiction I found it easy to imagine that my character’s 43 years suddenly ended at 2:46pm, one pleasant Friday in March, 2011.

And yet, in the flicker of a dying synapse, I was soon very much alive again.

But it was the year 1986 and I’d all of the memories and experiences of the next twenty-five consciously available.

What would I do?

Where would I go?

Who would I meet up with or avoid?

What made Mr. Grimwood&‘s book such a deeply soul-searching read were the twin discoveries made by his main character that the initial replay was only the first of an unknown number to come; and, that he was not the only replayer.

From these jarring realizations he came to question the very foundation of his existence and, well, why not read the book and discover what happened for yourself.

Watching the Japanese TV news a few night ago I was struck by how many of the survivors of quake and tsunami wanted to put back together pieces of the lives they had once known.

A boy who admitted he didn’t much like school before, now longed for the routine of the classroom.

An elderly woman lamented that she couldn’t stand existence in a shelter and just wished to go home to a house and to neighbors that no longer existed.

I found myself thinking how much we humans are creatures of habit and circumstance, even after we’ve taken care of the basic needs of food, water, shelter, warmth and kinship. No doubt I would react in a similar manner if my world had been ripped asunder in a matter of minutes, and I was left facing a very uncertain and troubled future.

However, even for the foreigners I know of in Tokyo with an undamaged dwelling to relax in and an intact way of earning a living, it’s still an unsettling time.

There are, of course, the widely reported physical realities of broken nuke plants and random aftershocks to contend with. Much less discussed is the puncturing of an always on city lifestyle that took the availability of unlimited electrical power almost as natural law. Faced now with the prospect of power shortages in the hot, sticky summer ahead, how many will attempt to carry on as before?

And, looking further ahead, just as Replay’s main character knew what was to come, but for a lifetime or two attempted to ignore the inevitable day of reckoning, will our days return to living in a present yesterday, and to ignoring those impulses to start changing repeating patterns that no longer serve us?

Or, most shockingly of all, perhaps a replay of Tohoku’s tribulations, but one much closer to this metropolis and its teeming millions, will be the awful catalyst for personal collapse and reinvention?

Lest the reader misunderstand, I don’t wish natural disasters on anyone. And I fully support the mighty efforts to help those who’ve suffered so much from recent calamities in Japan.

But at the same time, it’s clear to me that Japan, and Tokyo in particular, has been served a warning on what could happen in the Kanto region. Unlike in Replay, we unfortunately don’t have any firm date to plan for.

In the interim, I foresee much personal introspection and change in the months and years ahead for the people of Japan, and for foreign residents too. With some luck and much hard work, an eye to the future will hopefully help many better understand the lessons of experience, and the thrill of being more present today.