In my last essay, “The Virus that Ate the Future”, I wrote about how the Coronavirus had stolen our future. Many readers responded to this and shared that they too are feeling a change in their relationship to the future. Some said it made them feel better reading that it was ok to feel anxious.
This started me thinking about the opposite experience of the future, the past, and how it manifests in this COVID-19 era. I wrote that the future provides relief from the anxiety of the present. Does the past do the same? What is the function of memory, especially when the future is closed to us? Has our relationship to the past been affected by this virus? If we lose one of the segments of the triumvirate of time, the future, does it heighten our sensitivity to the remaining two: the present and the past? Could it be that without a future we can experience a heightened connection to the past?
People are finding very creative ways to experience the present. My wife and I will be participating in a board game with family six time zones away via Zoom. In some respects that experience will very likely bring us all into a shared present in a more intimate way than when we chatted via Skype and the future was still possible.
I have often jokingly said that the reason people love the past is because they know how it turned out. Currently, I mostly see the past evoked to blame someone or some organization for what they did or didn’t do to prevent or mitigate this virus. I don’t see the past utilized as a resource. I see politicians squabbling. I see angry people marching in the streets carrying their guns like the Peanuts comic strip character Linus** hugging his security blanket. They brandish signs that shout their unresolved fears of having no future. In all this, it is easy to forget that we all run out of a future eventually.
Our past, however, can stay with us to our last breath and even beyond if we share it with friends and loved ones. Our past is a resource for comfort and healing. It can be a well from which we draw the fluidity of memory to rehydrate our souls in this difficult time.
The memory that stimulated me to delve into this topic of the past was when I was about eight years old. My best friend of now more than 60 years and I were in his back yard on a hot July day in Central Ohio.
The humidity was as high as the corn in the fields behind us, but that didn’t stop us from riding this old battered tricycle from his toddler days down the rear concrete walkway as fast as we could. Before we reached the end and the gravel driveway we would deliberately wrench the tricycle to the right and tumble end over end in the lush growth of the back yard. Each grass-stained crash was a triumph of derring-do. “Surviving” the crash was proof that we were alive. We faced death and won! And then we’d go back to the top of the sidewalk and do it all again just to reinforce that exhilarating feeling of renewed life.
Remembering that day six decades ago filled me with joy and aliveness. The past became the present and a great joy poured into my being. Following this memory, others bobbed to the surface like air bubbles trapped in the bottom of a pond. There were fishing trips with my dad, our cross country team winning a state championship, picking raspberries on my aunts farm and many more waiting to burst into the present.
All of us have some special memories to draw on. Once into consciousness, we have the opportunity to transform them into soothing resources in the present, and carry them into the future, when it becomes less opaque.
I hope you, dear readers, will not forget to utilize your past to help you manage the present this virus has forced us to navigate. Look back fearlessly and find ways to share your memories, with friends, family, and maybe even your therapist, to forge them into the shape and function you need to feel alive and hopeful, to be masters of your fate as we all go round and round in the circle game of life.
from the lovely song, “The Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell, 1966 If you’re not familiar with it go on YouTube or Spotify and search, “The Circle Game”.
** This is a reference to the character, Linus, in the long-running comic strip, “Peanuts” by Charles Schultz who always had his “security blanket” hugged close to him and usually had a thumb in his mouth.
I would love to hear memories that are important to you and help you navigate in the present. Perhaps they could be included in a future essay, (with your permission) and be comforting to others. Go to bruceking.substack.com to share your stories.
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Be safe. Be well. Love the ones you’re with.