We’ve Reached Our “Time Jump” Season. Now What?

There’s a popular convention in serialized fictional media (television, comic books, etc.) that has been on my mind for several weeks, perhaps because (allegedly) we are gradually approaching the conclusion of the long COVID-19 saga that has gripped the world for almost a year as of today’s writing.

I’m referring to the “time jump“, wherein the narrative shifts forward in time (usually by six months to three years, sometimes much further, and sometimes only temporarily) and we encounter revised versions of once-familiar characters, settings and circumstances.

Note: “A Time Skip is similar to the Distant Finale, but rather than coming at the end of a series, occurs somewhere in the middle, usually between seasons or Story Arcs. A Time Skip can also happen when a series gets a sequel that picks up after the Distant Finale. Naturally, this occurs far more in animated series and comics than in live action, unless a long period of time passes in real life. A mid-series Time Skip in a manga usually causes a break between series in the anime adaptation. It’s also a common point in the story for filler to be fitted in.”

Usually those revisions are “post-apocalyptic” in nature. Our heroes (and enemies) have lived through a calamity, and now we must learn about who they’ve become after bearing the brunt of disaster.

The X-Men mythos is famous for its liberal use of the “time jump” trope to depict newly disastrous conditions that establish a new, tense status quo and allows for major shifts in the book’s “main” cast without too much immediate need for explanation. Protagonists (which often now include unexpected allies) are usually united in a desperate struggle for post-apocalyptic survival, and antagonists often make massive gains in power, competence and public acceptance/salience. You’ll note in the image above that many famous X-Men are depicted as flatly dead or otherwise gone in the “Days of Future Past” storyline—we don’t see most of these deaths, but they carry narrative weight all the same.

While time has passed and we’ve lived through every moment of it—something the “time jump” relieves us of—I can’t help but find myself encountering moments in my life where I’m reminded of this convention. I find myself shocked by how casually my mind holds on to “the before times” until the unconscious expectations I’ve formed during my time on this Earth are disrupted by a very different reality.

This first time occurred to me when I was talking to an old and still somewhat close friend who was talking to me about how he planned to move to a new state at the end of the year, because the once-vibrant collective that made up our friendship had fragmented and drifted apart completely. I hated to hear that although I knew it was true and, for my part, I’d been gone for much longer than anybody else—even before the pandemic started. He said there would soon be nothing left for him where he lived and that his best possible choice was to start somewhere new. My first instinct was to think about the ways we could try to bring the old gang back together, but none of us was in any real way who we were even a year ago; I don’t even fit the same clothes, much less the previous emotional and social patterns of my life. I could not justifiably argue with him, so I didn’t.

More bizarrely though, I’ve found my mind drifting carelessly back to the before times where my father is concerned. It has only been a few months since he passed, and yet there are days that I forget. I wonder what he “thinks” about something I’m observing in the world, or see something that I suspect he’d be excited about and I’m eager to hear his perspective. Quickly I remember that, at least on this earthly plane, he doesn’t think anything at all anymore, and that whatever he is excited about, it surely is not happening here. When I absentmindedly consider visiting him when it is “finally safe”, I’m unceremoniously reminded that for me and so many people, the people we expected to meet at the end of our “time jump” will not be there.

This news doesn’t necessarily hurt me like it might have at first, but it does make me wonder. If I’d been able to talk to my father during his dying days, would his absence feel more real? Would we have reached some final understanding, some conclusion that eludes me now? Would my closure—which I think is pretty well-sealed—be somehow more complete if I could have heard his voice one last time during his hospitalization?

I don’t know the answer to that, and I never will. To that end, it’s probably not productive to think about it. But I think that in this year of tremendous loss, my story isn’t an uncommon one, and I wonder how the calamity that has touched so many of our lives has changed the way we think about and navigate the world.

Over the past several months I have seen—from a distance—many friends experience deaths with circumstances that mirror my own, and I ask myself: will they wonder the same things that I do? Will these experiences change the direction of their lives, as they have mine?

In that vein, I wonder what we can do to collectively support one another as we envision the next phases of our lives. How do we work through this largely incalculable episode of public grief and trauma? How do we begin that discussion?

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