“Walking Distance”

Martin Sloane, a 36 year old Vice President at an ad agency, is taking a Sunday drive in his fancy sports car and stops at a gas station to get his car serviced. He looks frustrated, hot, and agitated. In speaking with the gas station attendant he explains that he “just had to get out” and he notices a sign up the road showing “Homewood 1 1/2 miles”. Martin mentions to the gas station attendant that he used to live in Homewood and he hasn’t been back for 20 to 25 years. He mentions that Homewood is walking distance from the gas station and begins his journey to his past. 

Martin walks into the town’s soda shop and orders an ice cream soda. He begins a conversation with the man behind the counter stating that he used to live in Homewood and how shocking it is that the town has remained the same, so much so that it is like he had only left yesterday.  As Martin walks through the town, he is taken back to a time that once was, summer in a small town, kids playing in the park, a merry go round, and cotton candy. Martin mentions to a woman he sees in the park how he was a child in this town so many years ago and one summer he carved his initials into the bandstand. As Martin looks over at the band stand, he sees a boy, just around his age when he carved his name into the bandstand, carving something into the wood. In walking up to boy, he realizes the boy is him at age 11. The boy runs off and Martin follows him home, to his childhood home where he comes face to face with his mother and father. Martin tries to explain who he is but only frightens his parents. It is at this point that Martin realizes that he has somehow traveled 25 years back in time.

Later that evening, Martin sees his younger self on the merry go round and rushes up to speak to him. The boy becomes scared, starts to run away, ends up falling off the merry go round and hurting his leg. As the police come to help 11 year old Martin, 36 year Martin claims, “I didn’t mean to hurt you, I just wanted to tell you that it is a wonderful time for you and don’t let any of it go by without enjoying it. There are no more merry go rounds, no more cotton candy, no more band concerts. I only wanted to tell you that this is a wonderful time for you, now, here.” 

As the 36 year old Martin sits on the merry go round, burdened by the fact that he hurt his younger self, his father comes to him and tells him younger Martin will be fine and mentions the older Martin dropped his wallet when at his childhood home. His father recognizes the drivers license expires in 25 years, the dates on the bills in the wallet haven’t happened yet, and with all of this, he knows that this 36 year old man before him is his son. In a bit of fatherly advice he shares with Martin “You have to leave here, there is no room, there is no place for you. We only get one chance, only one summer for every customer.  This summer belongs to the Martin of this time just like it was once yours. Don’t make him share it.” His father asks him if it is so bad where he is from. Martin says it is and that he needed to run and experience the merry go round, summer air, cotton candy, and just give himself a chance to breathe. His father continues to share the wisdom only a father can, “Maybe there are merry go rounds and band concerts where you are from but maybe you haven’t seen them because you haven’t been looking in the right places. You haven’t seen them because you are looking behind you, try looking ahead.”  

There seems to be a common theme, at least in the last three episodes of the Twilight Zone, of living in the past. Mr. Denton wanted the ability to have a second chance, Barbara Jean Trenton wanted nothing more than to live in the fictional movies she created in her 20s, and now Martin Sloane desperately wants to relive the simpler times of his childhood. I don’t believe this idea of living in the past is limited to the world of the Twilight Zone. I believe many people look back on the past with such positivity and dream of returning home because we are searching for something, like Martin, that we cannot define. Why does Martin want to go back to the past? Is it to relive his childhood? I don’t believe it is. I think Martin is looking for a feeling, an experience, an emotion that he hasn’t felt in 25 years. In his present day he doesn’t know where to find it or how to obtain it so he goes back to the last place and time where he can remember feeling the way he wants to feel in the present. Once there, he realizes even being placed back in the time of yesteryear he still isn’t feeling what he thought he would be feeling. Martin isn’t finding what he is searching for. He is searching for something he cannot define and when he searches for words to express what he is looking for, he can only identify things like the merry go round or cotton candy. What Martin doesn’t realize is it isn’t things or experiences that create a memory, it is how we view the experience that creates a memory. If Martin could define what he is searching for he would use words like fun, play, amusement, carry on, let loose, etc.

Why do we look to the past for what we need in the present? We look to the past because It is easier to look back on what was then face what is and even more difficult to create what will be. We have the realize the past is the past and it is over. We cannot, not matter how much wishing we do, go back to a time already lived. What we can do, is look back on the past and understand what made it so great, and in the advice of Martin’s  father, look for the merry go rounds and cotton candy in our time. How can we take what was so wonderful in the past and bring it into our present?

We have to make time for it. We have to make fun, wonderment, joy, play and all the other words to describe the feeling of childhood a priority. We have to make play, fun, connection with friends, carefree behavior, and joy a part of our every day life. We cannot be too busy to see the joy in life. If we don’t make time for enjoying and experiencing life, we will fall victim to the same life Martin had. Martin thought he knew what success was; driving a fancy car, having a Vice President position, living in the big city, and so on. But Martin realized that the success on paper didn’t mean success in his heart nor his soul. Even with all the success, he was still craving something he felt was just as unreachable as reliving the past. It isn’t until he has the conversation with his father that he realizes he, like all of us, are the writers of our own story. We get to define success and all the details that come along with it. We get to prioritize what we want to focus our time and energy on. Success is more than fancy cars, money, and titles. Success includes how you live your life, how you spend your time, who you spend your time with, how you will be remembered, how you will contribute, and how you will connect. What Martin forgot to do in defining his success was to carve out a piece of his life for fun and play.  

I understand Martin’s desire to live in the past. I had a wonderful childhood with wonderful friends. We spent our summer days swimming and our summer nights playing under the street lamps. The summers seem to never end and we always knew that when one summer ended, another one would come back the next year. But as the saying goes “all good things must come to an end.” Right? Wrong. Yes our childhood freedom began to change with adult responsibility but our love of fun and love of being around each other never changed. When we get together today it is like we are back 25 or 30 years ago.  We laugh, we joke, we connect, and we have a wonderful time. It is like we are back in time but better. Childhood was great, but it too had its limits yet we were still able to find the joy. Adulthood has different responsibilities than childhood, but our need to find the joy is just as necessary.  Though the hairs may have grayed and lines have appeared on our faces, when we are with each other, we are young again. In the words of Martin’s father, look for the merry go rounds and cotton candy in your time, they are there, you just have to find them and if you can’t find them, create them. 

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