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Beautiful Sunset
Week #11
Across Time: The Past (Part 1)

“Did you see the new paper on the Grandfather Paradox?” Neville was the last to join the group at the Café. But his enthusiasm overtook all the other conversations as usual.


“Not all of us geek out on time travel first thing in the morning Neville.” Justin said with a big yawn.


“Well, it was confirming that paradox free time travel is theoretically possible.”


“Ok… You are obviously dying to tell us what the research said Neville but none of us get this anyway. So, from the top?” Lizzy quickly stepped into the role of the peacekeeper as usual. No one needed Justin and Neville to talk over each other this early in the day.

“Sure… so there are a few different paradoxes related to time travel. One of them is called the grandfather paradox. It essentially means if you go back in time and kill your grandfather you will never exist and therefore there is no future you to go back in time to kill your grandfather.”


“So it’s a catch 22” Justin offered.


“Pretty much… therefore a paradox!” Neville corrected.


“So, what does the new research say about it?” Lizzy once again stepped in before things turned into an argument.


“It says that events will correct itself even if you went back in time and tried to change it. Like if you were to go back in time and get rid of COVID patient zero, then the likelihood is high that either you will become patient zero or there will be a new patient zero and we in the future will still have COVID. They proved it with a mathematical model that this is the most likely outcome. It essentially proves all the sci-fi fiction that keep pointing to determinism and debunks free choice, in a way.”


“Sort of like how Fry became his own grandfather in the Futurama season 3 where he went back in time and killed his grandfather.” Among the many useless things I remembered, every Futurama episode ever made had a very special place.

“Exactly Nat. That was episode 19. That’s one of the best examples from pop-culture that probably explained the grandfather paradox in the simplest way.” Neville was entirely too happy to see someone relate to his excitement.


“Does it really matter until someone creates a time machine? It’s all theoretical mumbo-jumbo until then.” Justin was apparently still in a mood to pick a fight.

“Well, maybe you don’t need to ‘build a machine’ if there are natural gates that allow you to cross time boundaries, like in Outlander. Or if time can be folded so you can jump from time to time like in a wrinkle in time.” I liked the concept of time travel and didn’t want Justin to keep crushing Neville’s enthusiasm.


“Are you actually giving more pop culture references to prove time travel is possible?”


“Yes, but these pop culture references have math and reasoning behind them. Plus, haven’t you wished you could go back in time and change things? Like not being a contrarian all the time Justin? I mean there has to be at least a few times you wished you had been nice for a change, right?” I had no problem standing up to Justin.

Justin did shut up and Neville and others slowly moved on from time travel to more mundane topics like upcoming work week.


After the Sunday morning coffee get-togethers, I always walked through the sprawling Johnston park to get home. There was rarely anyone at the park this early in the day. Today wasn’t particularly different. At least not until I got to the lake in the far corner of the park. I generally stop there to feed the ducks a piece of bread I carry from the café. This is my way of connecting with nature and practicing 5 minutes of reflection before getting back to the challenges of a mundane life.


It was a mild spring day with a cool breeze dancing among the leaves. But I could clearly see the air shimmering a few feet in front of the lake as it does on sweltering hot days. It registered as an anomaly in some distant part of my brain but I didn’t know what to do with that information. I walked through the shimmering veil to get to the bench at the lake shore, where I’ve sat and fed the ducks every week for the last year.


Today, there was a young teenager sitting on the far corner with a half broken piece of bread in his hand. He was breaking the bread into tiny pieces and rolling them into little pellets before throwing them into the water. For a moment I was at a loss in the face of an unanticipated change to my routine.


Does this mean I have to find another place to sit or will I have to give up my routine entirely if there wasn’t another bench anywhere close by?


A moment of scanning the surroundings indeed confirmed there were no other benches close by. I decided on option 3 and sat down on the other end from the young one. He seemed completely absorbed in his thoughts and didn’t notice me at all. We both sat in silence and fed the ducks.


“Did the ducks multiply? There were only 4 of them before, now it looks more than double.” The boy suddenly stood up and spoke.


“What do you mean? All of them were there the whole time I’ve been here.”


“Really? I know I’ve been lost in my thoughts but I swear we’ve never had more than a handful of ducks in this pond before.” He stood scratching his head.


“Looks like you have more now.”


“Hmm… Like I don’t have enough problems, I’m going to lose my mind too now.” He grumbled under his breath.


“Don’t you think you are being a tad dramatic there? So, you didn’t pay enough attention to the number of ducks when you sat down. It really doesn’t mean you are losing your mind; you know. All it says is you were preoccupied.”


“Whatever… Who are you? I don’t think I’ve seen you around here before.”


“I’m Natalia. I come here every Sunday morning to feed the ducks. I haven’t seen you here before either.” If I can handle Justin, I can handle a disgruntled teenager any day, I told myself.


“I have better things to do Sunday mornings... Like sleeping in.”


“Really? Then why are you here today?”


“I needed to think.”


“What is so important to think about today that you decided to forego the exiting world of sleeping in?”


It was the first time he turned to face me directly and there was a trace of something familiar about his pre-adolescent face. But he looked at me with eyes full of doubt. Every fiber in his body clearly screamed he didn’t believe an adult could possibly understand his dilemma or would be genuinely interested in helping. He was definitely being a teenager.

“You know, even if I won’t understand, there’s real scientific evidence that talking things out loud helps you to see your options more clearly.” I offered.


He watched me for another moment before tentatively responding. “I need to figure out how to convince my dad to let me try acting school. He wants me to keep taking more and more math classes so I can do computer programming or something equally boring with my life.”


“Well, can you act though?”


“Of course I can. I can make anyone at school laugh in under 10 seconds but I didn’t get the lead role in the school play this time and Dad thinks I’m wasting my time. It’s because the play is about a short, chubby, ugly kid and I obviously don’t fit the bill. I did get the only role that a half way good looking guy could play but it’s a small role.”


“Ok. I suppose that means you have some talent. So, when do you want to go to acting school? You look a tad young to dedicate your self to it right now.” I decided to ignore his self appointed description of good looks.

“It’s after I finish high school and I have about 5 more years to go to finish.”

“If that’s the case, what do you have to lose if you do the math classes your dad wants you to do just for now? It’ll get him off your back but it doesn’t stop you from going to acting school in 5 years.” I silently added that he might learn a few things that’ll help in real life if he did math and that he’ll have a backup option if his acting talent didn’t pay off.

“But I don’t want to. I want dad to just see that I’ll be a great actor.” His sulky voice was actually adorable. We all wanted to be accepted for who we thought we were, and this entire tantrum was because he felt his dad didn’t have faith in him. I took a moment to hide a smile before responding.


“You can keep working on that. I'm sure you'll convince him soon. Have you tried auditioning for anything outside of school?”

“Not yet. Mom said I should wait another year or two.”

“Sounds like mom is supportive at least. I mean, that’s half the battle you’ve already won.”

“Mom’s always great but Dad makes all the decisions. You’d think in year 2000 women would have more power.” His tone was petulant again. But my brain screeched to a halt and focused on something completely different.

“I’m sorry, did you say year 2000?”


“Yeah. It’s March 2000.”


“Oh… and where are you right now?”


“Uhhh… we are in Seoul, in the Republic of Korea… why are you asking these weird questions?”


“One last question and I promise, I’ll answer yours… what is your name?”

“I’m _(oppa’s name)_. Why are you asking?”

“Huh… so you are Oppa from year 2000 and you are in a park in Seoul” My brain had come to a complete stop.


“Why are you being weird?”


“Well, mostly because I had a debate about the validity of the grandfather paradox and time portals with a friend this morning and it looks like I might now have evidence to prove or disprove it.”


Watching the complete confusion in his eyes, I made a split-second decision to leave with him one important message. I reached out and took both his hands as I knelt in front of him and held his gaze.


“Never mind. Here’s what I want you to remember. You WILL become a great actor that will break down boundaries, rise to the top and bring people together. You are right. You are extremely talented but you will need to be dedicated and disciplined to get to the top. Most of all, it will be your honesty, humility and compassion that will get you a bigger following than anyone else. Remember these words when you audition, especially in the early years. Don’t give up no matter how many times you don’t get the main role. The future needs your voice.”

“Ooooo Kkkkk… now you are not weird at all… How do you know this?” His voice was uncertain but the pressure with which he clutched my hands said he needed the reassurance.

“Because I’m one of those fans that follow you in about 20 years in the future.”


“Ha… good one!” His quick laugh followed by the lopsided smirk transformed his young face for a moment and I could see the charming adult that was waiting to emerge. In that moment, full of innocence and hope, it was easy to fall for the man he’ll become.

“You don’t have to believe I’m from a different time but I do want you to remember my words whenever anything discourages you or you doubt yourself. In those nerve-wracking moments when you question whether you are good enough, believe in my words. You are one of the most brilliant actors of our time. So, stop worrying today. Go do the math your dad wants you to do and get your mom’s help to audition and begin your acting career. It will begin soon.”


“Really? When?”


“Soon as you are grown up enough to face the world of entertainment. It's not all rose colored glasses and glamor shots so you need to be a bit grownup. Now, get back home before everyone misses you.”

He continued to stare at my face for a long moment, still clutching my hands. I could see the hope blooming behind his eyes and competing with a still lingering trace of doubt. I didn’t let go.

“Will you be here next Sunday then?”

“I will be here next Sunday, but I don’t know how this worked today. I don’t know whether we’ll be able to connect again.” My heart contracted to see his pleading eyes wanting to hold on to the voice that believed in him. I wanted to be his friend every day and support the amazing person that will be revealed. “But I promise, I’m telling the truth. Please believe in these words. You will become everything you dream of today.”

“What type of roles do I do?”


“You do everything. Rich guys, poor guys. Good guys, bad guys. Fantasy, historical drama, contemporary… pretty much everything.”


“Do people like me?”

“Very much. It’s not just because of your acting though. You really use your popularity to give a voice to those who don’t have one. You are always kind and humble and you always put others before you. There’s little to not like, honestly.”

As the young Oppa processed this, I slowly moved back to sit on the other end of the bench. It surprised me to feel an aching loss of the contact as I let go of his hands. It was like I was missing a part of my physical self.

“What about girlfriends?” 


“Ha!... trust you to ask that… You have your share.”


“Am I married in 20 years?”


“I think you need to experience that part. I’ll spoil it if I tell you. Don’t stress over it. You’ll be fine.” I couldn’t stop smiling about all the things running through his mind.


“Will I meet you in the next 20 years again then?” the softly uttered question tugged at my heart.

“Not in normal life. Not unless what we believe about the grandfather paradox is wrong and something changes in the future past. But I’ll be cheering you on whether you know me or not. I’ll definitely be your fan in 20 years. Maybe we’ll meet again in my future.”


“I’ll look for you in 20 years then.” The complete conviction in his voice was that of a child that hadn't yet faced real challenges and had to compromise. But I was happy to believe in his words.

“I’ll be waiting”

“Promise?” the longing in his voice secured a promise I will never break.


(to be continued in Part 2 of Across Time - The Future)   

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