Have you ever had one of those days when all you do seem to be leading to the past rather than the future? You are suddenly overwhelmed by memories, events long gone, people met and lost, things you did, said, thought years and years ago, and nothing you do enables you to move forward? Everything points back, and you get stuck in this muddle of memories as if you need to find a key to unlock forward movement once again?
Well, I’m there right now. Sat at my desk, trying edit a manuscript for work, I keep getting distracted by my past. Not just a single event, a person or an idea, but my entire past, every moment that has led to this now. That’s quite a lot.
Why did I do that? Why did I go there? Why did this person enter my life? Why didn’t I choose differently, and why did that have to happen?
Those questions are impossible to answer and they lead nowhere. All I can work with is the future, from now and onward. I can’t use the past. Sure, you can learn from past mistakes, but you’ll never really know if you’re about to make one again. Possibly getting lost in the past is the biggest mistake you can make!
I really ought to get back to work. Really, really …
So much have happened in my life, incredible … So much leading to now. Where would I be if I had chosen differently? Would I know the people I know? Would I be where I am? Why couldn’t I have gone through with this or that?
And what is it about memory? Why do we remember some things but not others? I have tried this often in the company of old friends: They mention some funny event or person from our shared past, and I have no recollection of it or him/her. But I remember other things, which my friend doesn’t. How does our brain pick out what to remember? And is it possible to have forgotten very important things, which would change our life today?
I have a lousy memory, at least I think I do. I can easily forget what someone said or did, even that we met before, or that we had a serious and deep discussion last we met – I reintroduce myself politely, only later to be reminded that last I met this person, we got close. How is that possible? I blame my busy life – too much to do, too much to deal with from day-to-day, why with kids, house, dog, work, and personal writing. I only hope these people aren’t too offended.
But the past, yes. It has a grip on me today. I travel back in time, seeing places and people long forgotten, and long-lost. Is it trying to tell me something? Is there something, here and now, I ought to do, something chained and locked in my past? And is it really possible for so much to happen in less than half a life?
So many people gone … People I loved so much … So many tough times I managed to go through … and so much joy and laughter. People I used to hang out with, long nights of music, beer and laughter, people I studied with, traveled with. So many people, and I don’t know where they are now … or they have become names on Facebook, sometimes stumbled upon. What decides who gets to stay and who gets left behind?
I run into a flood of tears as I remember my old cat, he was so cute, and what about that trip to Norway when I was nine, I wonder what happened to all those people – I can’t even remember a single name from the group! Why were we even there? Oh, right, it was the afterschool choir.
I really need to get back to work …
The past – whilst fun to look in on from time to time – is behind us for good reason. It is the road we’ve travelled to get to where we are today. In fact, it is the blueprint to each and every one of us. But more often than not, to walk backwards – retracing our own path – is largely fruitless; unless of course, we have misplaced our car keys. One can become easily distracted by the past… reflecting on how things might have been different, or how a few actions or words might have changed the course of one’s life, but with those brisk or reckless choices come the aftereffects. Alas, a hazy memory or milky recollection which has been distorted by the course of time will seldom ever earn one forgiveness or absolution, but it’s cloudy, numbing mantle does perhaps make the road forward feel that much easier to deal with. People come in and out of our lives for a reason, and those reasons tend to be unpredictable like the swell of the tides in a monsoon. But with new lessons learned (good or bad, hurtful or joyous), sometimes there is simply no reason to hang on… we vanish; leaving a small trace of us in our wake, like the criss-crossing contrails of a jet plane. Just be with your partner, your family, your kids and refuse to look back with remorse or a pang of dolefulness. People are simply energies entering one-another’s orbit… the good times ahead will become the blueprint for the past you’ve had when you’re old. So from here on, make it count.