In a beautifully metaphorical text, a young Iranian warns his Arabs peers: “Don’t get too excited with your revolutions, beware those who say the solution is found in the past. We know it firsthand: it doesn’t end well”
Three horsemen venture into a haunted forest. A pair of pants softly descends from the sky. A death in the family. A plane crash. TV series grab their viewers' attention by introducing them to extraordinary situations such as these. But I'm not a TV writer. Nor is my story that extraordinary. I'm just a young man who’s speaking to you from inside a time machine.
Yes, you've read it right. I'm in a time machine. And no, I'm not crazy.
Don’t take my word for it. There's nearly 80 million of us here in this time machine. Ask anyone of them and they’ll tell you the same thing. In fact, we’ve been trapped here for the past 33 years. And what’s worse, our time machine doesn’t even work.
But how on earth did so many of us end up inside this bizarre machine?.
The idea came from a respectable old man called Dr. Wiseman. Dr. Wiseman, or “Dear Doctor” as we liked to call him, was an experimental physicist. His main thesis was that all important questions have already been fully answered in a certain era in the past. According to him, if we looked closely at our historical records, and squinted our eyes the way he did, we could easily discover a map that led us directly to that time. All we needed to do then was to help him build his time machine, and put him at the helm.
At the time, Dear Doctor’s plan didn’t seem that strange to us, mainly because the past he kept referring to was highly revered by all of us. We were also intrigued by his plan because it was so different from what we were used to in our temporally stationary lives. Finally, Dear Doctor exuded an unearthly confidence that brought down our inhibitions. His stern demeanor seemed to tell us “I’m going to make this happen, with or without your help.”
We had to do it.
Dear Doctor’s bold design did not include emergency exit doors. But we reasoned that Dear Doctor knew best. Installing too many doors probably added to the drag, thus impeding our progress. Plus, who needs an emergency door anyway? Of course, there were a few naysayers among us who felt uneasy about this. We made sure that we wouldn’t hear much from them later on.
We made many sacrifices for Dr. Wiseman: we toiled for him; we starved for him; we killed for him. Yet we still remained stationary.
We made many sacrifices to get Dr. Wiseman’s time machine moving: we toiled for him; we starved for him; we died for him; we killed for him. Yet we still remained stationary. Of course, we only had ourselves to blame for this: we were not trying hard enough. So we added to our efforts. But as we went head over heels to get a glimpse of Dear Doctor sitting at the helm to do his bidding, his expression always remained a mixture of disdain and boredom. We felt inadequate before him, yet we didn’t give up. If we just threw in a bit more effort…
Which is why Dear Doctor’s untimely death at the age of 86 hit us so hard. Not only had we failed to reach the shores of our golden past, but we were also trapped inside a giant machine, moribund and exhausted from all the sacrifices we’d made, brooding over a dead man’s legacy and an uncertain fate: What went wrong? Could any of this be avoided? Was this preordained? What’s to become of us? How are we supposed to get out of this sealed machine without risking being mowed down by Doctor’s formidable security forces, now sworn to protect his successor, Dr. Wiseass?
Today, more than two decades after Dear Doctor’s death, we still haven’t found a clear answer to these questions. But of one thing we’re sure: our grand experiment was a grand failure . . . But wait a minute! Why am I telling you all this?
I hear many voices coming from your part of the world that are talking about embarking on a similar journey. Like Doctor Wiseman, they claim that they’ve found the panacea. They point to the same past as our Doctor did, and like him they insinuate themselves as the ones most capable to lead you there. But beware lest you too find yourself stranded and trapped inside a sealed experiment thirty years from now.
Time machines do not work. You cannot turn around the clock. You might as well chase your own shadow. Even if they did work, you’d realize that the past, no matter how glorious in your imagination, was just as messy, uncertain, and fraught with paradoxes as is your present. So you’d better deal with your own problems at the present time—which at least are more familiar—than grapple with those that you don’t know from another era. And finally, whatever you do, don’t ever forget to install emergency doors!
* Telmah Parsa is a university student in Tehran and a columnist for The Daily Beast and Huffington Post