On the past

Spilled milk, water under the bridge, a crumbled cookie, all metaphors for things that have already irremediably happened for which there is no recourse. The past in a different country for which we lament and think fondly. In light of current circumstances we often feel encouraged to idealize the past, change it so the present feels less painful. In the past, people who may have been lost in some tragic way are still alive and we are still happy. I think all of the time travel stories in which people return to the past so that they can meet up with people who are long since passed away. The past can often be an illusory refuge, a temporal mirage, when we were happier, or more complete, or less lonely. There is almost always a time in the past that we idealize as some sort of golden age when everything was better, when the food was tastier, the wine, sweeter, the people, still alive. Current circumstances, often clouded by job, pressures, bills, circumstances, people, fears, and conflicts, never seem to bring together the requisite parameters that form that strange state we might call happiness. We fight deadlines, difficulties, and dead ends, we rage against the machine, only to find it is not the machine but the ghosts in it that make our current lives difficult. We risk everything by living in a past that never existed because it looks more appealing than getting up on any given morning and driving off into the rain. This is, of course, an illusion. The past is an illusion. Seldom are we either honest or sincere about how difficult our lives might have been in the past. We repress the sadness and the difficulties of the past without truly examining how problematic nature of the past. There are some who try to alter the present by invoking the past, especially when it comes to social change and the attempts by some to keep change from happening. Change is the only constant that links the past with the present, and change is the only unalterable facet of both the past and present that will continue into the future. People hate change, but change is inexorable, unavoidable, inevitable, like taxes and death. By trying to reclaim the past as some sort of golden, idyllic era of perfect values or ideal behavior, some people falsify what the past was all about. The problems that people might have today, they have always had–greed, envy, hate, jealousy, insecurity, ire, pride, sloth. Our oldest stories, even Cain and Abel, are about the those kinds of problems, and the story of Eden is the grandest venture into nostalgia that has ever been written or imagined, a perfect place which is never hot or cold, where the food is plentiful and tasty, where nothing is ever lacking. Nostalgia is phony prison of badly remembered times and reformulated memories that chain us to a fake existence that never really was in the first place. The only way the present is tolerable is if we see it through a clear crystal lens, rejecting rose-colored glasses and dark mirrors which change and deform the past in ways that change and deform our present. To live freely in the present, the past must be analyzed honestly and critically, and one must be willing to accept the change inherent in the passage of time. Yearning for a past that never really existed only serves to frustrate and weaken our sense of the present. So the past is past, and nothing can be done about changing it, but looking at it with a cold eye of objectivity may bring it to life and inform our present.