Conventional wisdom suggests “don’t live in the past.” A Google search will bring up a variety of sites, quotes, and testimonials that warn against dwelling on the past or the future. Live in the present they scream. However it seems they always paint the past in dark colors, problems and worries — put them behind us. Similarly the future is filled with concern and worry — don’t do it it. Live and enjoy the present.
From my perspective focusing solely, even primarily, on the present is a mistake. It’s like cutting off, forgetting a major portion of our life and it’s experiences (the past) and ignoring our plans and dreams (the future). I want to live in the past, the present and the future. John Mitchell Hanson writes of “ceremonial time” when past, present and future merges into one experience, a sacred moment. He describes ceremonial time in the context of New England Native American culture. I loved the concept and have blogged about it before.
My present (for the past ten years) have had a number of setbacks — three floods, my grandson Eli’s neuroblastoma, my mother’s death by a hit and run driver, my prostrate cancer, related fistula, and now heart surgery. I think if I’d been dwelling solely on the present I’d be depressed, angry, at least not very happy with present.
So I enjoy the past. I enjoy thinking about my childhood growing up in Bristol Borough, with loving parents and four very different sisters, a strong extended, supportative family, attendance at Holy Goost Prep. I recall my years at Boston College, academic and social life, working in the Harcourt Bindery, exploring the city, cinema , music, and political activism. Meeting Diane, dating and our wedding in my Sophomore year, honeymoon in Canada. Then there was our Peace Corp training in Arizona and Mexico and months on the road traveling cross country with Peace Corps friends.
I remember years of teaching in elementary school, high school and college. I enjoyed (ok, there were some rough spots) 40 years of teaching at Holy Ghost Prep — 10 years in administration, many years as a librarian. I particularly enjoyed my local studies and film course. But American History, Political Science, and Economics had bright spots. Can’t say I always enjoyed dragging myself to Temple night classes but once I got researching and writing my dissertation, it was rewarding. I spent months in Harrisburg observing, interviewing and getting to know state legislators. The doctoral degree lead to decades as an adjunct at LaSalle and Holy Family University. I totally enjoyed teaching teachers; most graduate students are open and interested in learning.
At home Diane and I spent four fascinating, synergic, years in the early 1970s living in New Hope with John and Barbara Paglione. John and I had summers of Bucks County farm work, a large garden, exposure to the new Hope art culture. Our breakup was difficult but the good life (check out Helen and Scott Nearing) continued. Diane and I spent a fantastic summer living with Melody and Garrett Bonnema in Bethel, Maine. They are potters and introduced up to the craft movement and the Maine life style. I also went to several weeklong programs at the Maine Photographic Workshops — with National Georgaphic Photographers, one with Ernst Haas.
The late 1970s brought our only daughter, Jenny and a small house in Yardley Borough. I became involved in Borough politics, serving on Council for 8 years and was active in various non profit groups including Friends of the Delaware Canal, the Yardley Historical Association, Sierra Club.
It seems Jenny grew up so quickly. Elementary, passed into high school, art classes, boyfriends, dance and violin lessons, college. Annually we vacationed in Nantucket. There were family trips to Ireland and Scandanavia. One or two weekends many years in New York City. There were other trips to New England skiing and summer explores. Diane I traveled in Great Britian, France, and Switzerland ; Germany and Italy several times.
One of my best teaching experiences was The Greater Philadelphia Partnership. One of my high school classes would partner with a class from a City school — urban and suburban. The classes got to know each other and then engaged in a service project. For several years my HGP class partnered with a class from CAPA (Philadelphia’s HS for the the Creative and Performing Arts). Another real teaching experience was the ten years of Ayudanica — a service project to Nicaragua that I ran with Rob Buscaglia. We trained kids (Peace Corps style) during the school year and took about 15 kids in country for about 10 days in the summer. Over the years we established a library and computer center for young kids. It was a great experience.
Several years ago I looked at the thousands of books in my personal library. Why was I keeping them? I decided to begin a re-read program. Since then I have returned to several dozen books. Not only have I enjoyed the re-reads but usually see the book through a changed lens. Similarly I enjoy re-watching classic movies that I have seen before. As with books I always see something a bit different. I’ve even been organizing photographs, prints, slides and digital. I enjoy seeing these frames from the past. Overall, my past experience merges with new experience, creating the present.
I don’t want to forget my past, I enjoy thinking about it. Revisiting the past adds and merges with the present. Another example. I like return visits or vacations in places we’ve been before. For ten years we rented the same house in Nantucket. As the years passed we developed our Nantucket favorites — restaurants, beaches, shops, walks, bike rides, kayak explores. At the same time each year we added new experiences. Our vacation was a mix of the familiar and the new. The present included the past.
Live in the present advocates usually disparage the future as well as the past. Don’t worry about the future they counsel. Live each moment now. Again I disagree. I don’t need to “worry” about the future but I like to plan, to dream. And thoughts on the future helps to shape the present.
Since retirement I’ve been thinking about things I want to do. I want to spend some days reading in the library of Congress (got a card last year). I would like to travel in an Asian country — not sure if it’s China, Japan, Viet Nam or ? Diane and I thought we would take a Spring trip to the Caribbean (postponed but not forgotten). I’ve never been to Paris. Back to Great Britain, Ireland, Italy. Now in the present we have been planning for the future. Maybe we look at a map, read books about a place or watch a movie.
We have been making other plans, more time and trips with our grand children. Continue to explore Philadelphia and day trips from Yardley. We both have plans for new photographic equipment and a renewed experience with photography. We planned and have begun to expand our garden and cooking experiences. Want to take more classes in cooking, maybe audit some college courses. I’ve thought being a docent or volunteer at a historic site. Medical issues have deferred some of our dreams but those dreams still help to inform our present.
Rather than advocating a limited focus on the present, a live in the moment philosophy, I believe the past, present and future are connected. The past explains and informs the present; the future guides and focuses the present. Ideally we experience the connection, the relationship and maybe occasionally sense a unification, a ceremonial time.