How many times has someone, looking at a photo of you taken in your 20s, said, either sincerely or to be kind, “Oh, you were very good looking!” The operative word in that sentence is, of course, “were.” Former celebrities, faces recognized but names forgotten, are frequently asked “Weren’t you…?”
As you may have noticed, I have a love-hate relationship with the past. I take great comfort in revisiting it, yet resent, with an intensity difficult to describe, the fact that the past IS past. And I am of course selective in this: there are many parts of my past…the cold blackness-of-outer-space grief accompanying the death of a loved one, stupid and/or hurtful mistakes made, opportunities either missed or thrown away…which I would never, ever want to repeat. But it is the happy times, the pleasant times, the people who meant so much to me who are now gone forever, that I wish I could revisit with the appreciation I have gained since their loss.
To spend one more Christmas Eve with my parents, grandparents, Aunt Thyra and Uncle Buck, and other relatives…. To lay on the abandoned quay at Cannes with Marc, Michel, Gunter, and Yohaquim as the warm, crystal-clear Mediterranean Sea ebbed and flowed around us…. To be with the college gang at my parents’ cottage on Lake Koshkonong, singing show tunes and playing charades…. To soar, alone, through the tops of clouds in a bright yellow SNJ trainer plane.... To be in love with someone who loved me….
Each of us has experienced our own personal joys and sorrows; that is, after all, what life is all about. A pendulum cannot swing in only one direction. That we do not appreciate what we had until we no longer have it is not only a part of the human condition but inevitable: distance is often necessary for clarity. It’s just that I think of myself as being far more aware of and sensitive to that fact than many. I may of course be deluding myself (I’m quite good at that), but by observing other people it seems to be a valid conclusion. And of course you would not be reading this if you did not understand what I’m saying.
And yet it is amazing how few people actually seem to be aware of these things. The past, now, the future are merely vague concepts. I am constantly aware of Carl Sandberg’s poem, “Limited,” from which I have often quoted the line, “I ask a man in the smoker where he is going and he answers: ‘Omaha.’” Think about it.
Granted, there simply is not enough time in anyone’s life to contemplate all the mysteries, puzzles, and contradictions of that life. But, surely, a little more awareness is possible.
In our overall view of life, most of us tend to ignore the present. It is in fact the pendulum on which we ride, and we are largely unaware of its motion. Since we have spent all of our lives in the past, it tends to get most of our attention. It is where our memories—where everything we know of ourselves and can be certain of—lie. We watch it receding with a strange combination of confusion, a sense of loss, and helplessness. The future is an unknown; we haven’t been there yet. And since we are always in Now, we pay relatively little attention to it.
Perhaps if we gave a bit more attention to and were appreciative of the positive aspects of Now, this very instant, when Now becomes Then—which it does in a nanosecond—we at least will have the comfort of knowing we were aware of it while it happened, and perhaps the sting of loss will be somewhat less painful.
And meanwhile, we are all on the train to Omaha.
The blog is from Roger/Dorien's ebook of blogs Short Circuits, which is available from Untreed Reads and Amazon.