Unfortunately Nonfiction

Tethered to the Past

Bust a Muse Tethered to the Past
Oscar Keys/Unsplash.com

Somehow my time is always in short supply—a strange phenomenon for something that is infinite. With two rambunctious kids and an amazing wife, whose happiness is my first priority, there are a lot of demands on my time. I do my best to keep up, but given the finite amount of focus and mental capital at my disposal each day, that endeavor does not always yield the desired result. I’ve tried to break the stereotype about males and prove that I can multitask, but I generally just find myself dividing my attention between two things and accomplishing nothing of value with either. I have aspirations of being stellar at all of my obligations, but maybe it’s time to lower my expectations: “Today I managed to put on pants and no one had to go to the ER, score one for Steve.”

I often wonder if those who subscribe to a circular concept of time are any happier, knowing they’ve got an unlimited number of go’s at this life thing. They can sit back, relax, and not sweat the small stuff, knowing that they’ll have another chance to do it right the next time around. It certainly offers some enticing advantages.

I still think the linear concept jives better with my outlook and expectations of life, though. I don’t like the idea of doubling back and experiencing all the crappy things again—once was enough. Nor do I like the idea of being indefinitely encumbered by my mistakes until I work them off. See, I’m big on having the option to ask for forgiveness (I’m a dude, so I’ve had to ask for it . . . well the number’s not important right now—enough to know the routine, okay?). It’s a wonderful thing for two reasons. First, with forgiveness comes the opportunity to move on—let that water pass under the bridge. Second, I like to do something once and be done with it, and that’s typically how forgiveness works, at least when the beseecher is sincere: you ask, they forgive, it clears the air, everything’s back to sunshine and lollipops. That could be called laziness, but let’s call it efficiency—that has a much more positive connotation. The point is, a linear concept gives me a feeling of moving, not just on with my existence, but away from something regrettable, which is liberating.

A linear concept also focuses my attention on doing now the things that will improve my future, on progressing past my current imperfect state to one that is more deserving of praise and imitation—for my benefit and that of my  posterity. But I’ve found that working toward a brighter future requires quite a bit of retrospection. The future is full of potential and myriad wonders, but without the guidance of the past, the road ahead can be full of snares and misery. I’ve been down that path of snares and wasted a great deal of time freeing myself from them. That process was arduous and time-consuming, but going through it, I learned that completely severing yourself from the past can be just as detrimental to furthering yourself as only ever living in it. I also learned that while ambition must be tempered by wisdom, it shouldn’t be overruled by it.

And that is the challenge I face: embracing the wisdom found in my past without letting the follies there become a hindrance. This can easily happen, for there are quite a few, which is why retrospection is just as likely to enlighten me as it is to shroud my path forward. It’s beneficial to place the mistakes of the past into a repository of experience so that they can be accessed later when in search of guidance or charting new courses. However, too keen a focus on them individually tends to be counterproductive: Like looking at photos from my awkward middle school years, I sometimes find myself doing nothing more than sifting through them and being embarrassed, overwhelmed with regret, and forgetting why I even started searching in the first place. My new aim is to use them to my advantage, as Longfellow describes in “The Ladder of Saint Augustine”:

Standing on what too long we bore
With shoulders bent and downcast eyes,
We may discern—unseen before—
A path to higher destinies,

Nor deem the irrevocable Past
As wholly wasted, wholly vain,
If, rising on its wrecks, at last
To something nobler we attain.

Leave a Comment