Borne Back Ceaselessly Into the Past
Like most people, I don’t check my mailbox much anymore. I mean, what’s the point? The only people who still use the U.S. Post Office to contact me are catalog shillers and ex-girlfriends, neither of whom I really have much interest in hearing from. But I also don’t necessarily like the idea of being arrested for failure to appear for jury duty, so I stick my head in there on occasion just to be sure no crucial documentation isn’t withering away unnoticed amidst the reverberating vacuity of my mail receptacle. But what I discovered in there earlier this week truly shocked and horrified me.
It was a formal invitation for my twenty-fifth college reunion. Surely, I thought to myself, there must have been a mix-up at the alumni office. There is no way it could be twenty-five years since I graduated college. But then I did the math….2018-1993=????….Damn it! That is twenty-five years for crying out loud! No amount of cognitive dissonance could make this turd burger any more palatable. There was no getting around the unfortunate truth: I am getting old.
And like my response to this invitation to reconvene on the hallowed ground where once we frolicked and did keg stands while somehow managing to ponder the deep metaphysical truths that we were exploring in our liberal arts curriculum, there are two distinctly different ways one can go with their perspective on this realization. On the one hand, I could allow myself to be persuaded by all the social media contact I’ve gotten over the last few days from former friends trying to cajole me into joining them for a weekend of reliving the good old days. I can genuinely see myself having an unbelievably fun time waxing nostalgic and relishing the opportunity to flashback to a bygone era of my life. But I’m not sure that’s the path of perspective I want to embrace.
Somehow, it seems to me, that if we are reaching back into the past, looking to light that candle of remembrance to better days we wish we still had, we are forgetting to find the beauty in the present right before us. It’s like that friend you have who listens to so much classic rock from the 70’s and 80’s that he just can’t listen to anything post 1990. He’s missed out on almost three decades of great music, all because he cloistered himself away in an obsequious adherence to the past. Like the infamous Jay Gatsby in Fitzgerald’s novel, we cannot avoid the tragedy right before us because we are consumed by our past instead. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
In full disclosure, I have yet to decide whether or not I am going to make the cross country trek, but if I do go back, I am not going in order to check out my old dorm room, visit the spot where I made out with a distant relative of George Bush, or visit the astronomy observatory where we used to smoke bong hits before heading in to Prof. Avini’s astronomy lab. Those things happened years ago, and while they may have made for some joyful and outrageous memories, they are just that: memories. Things of the past.
What makes me reticent about reunions is that they are a celebration of the past instead of the future, and nothing ages you faster and more profoundly than living in the past. Doing so has a way of magnifying both the depth and breadth of the time behind you while generally leaving you decidedly pessimistic about the possibilities of being satiated by the days ahead. We have a tendency to glorify the good old days through rose colored glasses that airbrush out the imperfections of the time. Meanwhile, our present pales by comparison because its blemishes are exposed by the more revealing light of contemporary experience.
No, if I go back, it will be to enjoy the company of people I rarely see anymore. I want to see these people in the everlasting present and create new memories while we still can. I don’t want to sit around talking about the time we almost got busted heading into the Spring Party Weekend show. I want to smuggle beers into the formal Class of ’93 dinner and then appear for our scheduled faculty panel discussion half liquored up and on the verge of being asked to leave. I don’t want to reminisce about the time I made love to my college girlfriend underneath the stands of the football stadium. What I want to do instead is bring my current girlfriend there and prudently omit the details of past occurrences in that locale in order to see if perhaps lightning does hit the same place twice.
And therein to me lies the two diverging perspectives one can have on aging. If we feel the need to hearken back to the past, to dote fondly on our visions of our younger years, they will hang round our neck like an albatross, keeping us from seeing the blessed days we still have before us. Instead let’s carry them in front of us like lanterns, letting them shine light upon the time we still have before us. As long as you look forward to the days ahead, you’ll never truly be old. It’s only when you start looking back at the road behind you that you start worrying about things like age. Well, that and when you get 25th Reunion info in the mail….
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com