The past is a shadow in my life. No doubt, it influences my actions and thinking. Much of my writing for this column focuses on past happenings, and certainly, past experiences provide the basis for many of the stories.
I don't necessarily want to go back to the "good old days." I don't want to relive my teen years again. The angst of trying to find my way through social awkwardness and raging hormones is pretty much blocked from my mind and not something I wish to do over. My 20s and 30s were filled with grad school and developing a career, the question and stress of whether I was on the right track ever-present. When the 40s came along, regrets and "what-ifs" seemed to rule the day. In hindsight, though, things turned out well. Luck played a significant role in my career track, which is a rather scary thought. My history may well have played out differently if seemingly small events had or had not occurred.
The appeal of the past is that it is over. We can remember what we want of it, discard the rest. As our brains age, we open up channels of distant memories even as we deal with short-term memory loss. The accuracy of those memories comes into question, but who is left to question the truth of them? Our brains may revise our memories to protect our sanity, or at least the guilty.
The stress of the present may allow retreat into our mind's past to relive more pleasant times. Far easier to dwell on a past memory, knowing the outcome, than to deal with today's trouble, not knowing the result. The future is shaped by past events, determined by present-day choices. Do we learn from our history? Can we use the past to guide us in making good choices for the future? Perhaps the decisions we know we must make only serve to drive up our level of anxiety, keeping us from taking any action. Which, all things considered, is in itself an activity that forms our future.
Recent events force us to look back on our collective social history as we try to find answers to the tensions of today. The past collides with the present. Should we apply our present values and understanding to the actions of the past? Slavery is abhorrent to us now but was considered acceptable in the past by most of society. Should we judge our ancestors' actions with the value system of the present? Will our descendants judge our actions with a different set of morals? A minority in the past decided slavery was evil, and that minority eventually affected a change that present-day society now considers to be a fundamental value. What of today's minority thinking on justice, environmental issues, and economic distribution? Perhaps they will be the majority of the future.
We see our past and future through our parents and children, respectively. Parents' choices led to our being in the present, and their grandchildren are our future personified. I see my father in the mirror every day. I hear myself when my son speaks. I am changing from my son into my father. I remember the views I held in my 30s, my son speaks them as I did then. I see my father when he was my present age, and I feel now the anxieties he held.
Life really is just a circle.
-- Devin Houston is the president/CEO of Houston Enzymes. Send comments or questions to [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.