Plummer Cobb is a writer and communications consultant based in Arlington, Texas.


I was on my way to English class. My professor claimed to be introducing us to the greatest living writer of our time, but it was some sort of sci-fi/historical novel kind of thing. I chose to withhold judgment for the time being.

I was struggling with my so-called college “career,” which seemed to be going nowhere, like I was stuck on a treadmill, running as fast as I could but making no progress. I was passing, mostly, but not thriving.

A man stopped me on my way to class. He came out of nowhere. His face was hidden. His voice was familiar, but I couldn't place it.

“Let me give you some advice," he said.

"I have to go to class,” I said, expecting him to follow up his statement with a request for cash.

"I can teach you your greatest lesson."

“Sorry, not today."

He grabbed my arm. I had been taking some judo classes but wasn’t confident enough in my abilities to actually do anything in response, so I just froze.

"Don't do the thing that will get you to where you can do the thing you really want to do. Just do the thing you really want to do. You are young. That is the time to take risks and make mistakes. Throw practicality to the wind. Do what you love. Make great art. I'm not saying be reckless. Be methodical, if you can. But be brave. Be obsessed. Follow your true path. Throw yourself into your passions with the single-mindedness of a Zen master. Or the mentally ill, whichever metaphor works of you. But do it, and don’t delay. Time is moving on with or without you. So it goes."

“Who the hell are you?"

“I’m…a pilgrim, of sorts."

I freed myself from his grasp, and he let me go.

Later, I reflected on how the guy really creeped me out. Shook me up. Even more so for having seemed like someone I knew. I couldn’t even concentrate in my English class. What bothered me most was how much he reminded me of myself.

Was he an older version of me? Did he/I travel through time to give me advice? Or was he just some weirdo who hung around campuses freaking out impressionable students?

But what if? If he/I was giving me advice on what to do, like how to avoid making some mistake, and if I took that advice, could my life change to the extent that I wouldn't come back to give myself the advice I needed to make the change in the first place? Then again, if I avoided that mistake, would I even need to come back at all?

I shook my head and rooted around in my backpack to dig out the novel for English class. So it goes, indeed.

Where Are They Now?

The Penitent