By Stephen Doherty
Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better
hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones,
while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”
— Beryl Markham
One of the most memorable lines I’ve ever read comes from a book written by a good New Jersey friend of mine, Joseph Cervasio. The book is called “Bad News On The Doorstep.” In it, an Italian grandmother notices her ten-year-old grandson staring wistfully out the window on this cold and lonely night. He had recently lost both of his parents to an auto accident and the grandmother gently touched his arm and softly reminded him, “Gary-when you look back, merely glance and never stare.” In only a way a grandmother can, Gary was gently reminded that, indeed, let us glance back on the good times of days gone by, forgetting the bad news, and remembering only the best. But never stare; we have too many opportunities before us this day!
The past is such a paradoxical entity that lures us back into the mists of times gone by, often at the expense of the present moment. It’s been said that if you are depressed, you are living in the past and if you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present moment. We should avoid dwelling in the past. Focusing on the past can often give us nostalgic feelings which cause us to yearn for “the good old days.” The truth is, we often choose to see the past in a positive light because we fear for the future. Sometimes we must see the past for what it is: behind us.
Recently, the wife of a beloved lifelong friend of mine shared with me this dilemma. “Every time we meet his old friends, invariably-the discussions turn to the often raucous and undignified recollections of “Do you remember when (fill-in-the-blank) did (fill-in-the-blank) Those memories, while special, are about a person who no longer exists. Time and experience have elevated him to a level of graciousness, kindness, and dignity that no longer relishes reliving those “remember when….” moments. What a beautiful and poignant thought and such confirmation of why the years provide us increased beauty, self-worth, and confidence. I would never have thought that shedding those “moments” could be so liberating.
Let’s face it, we were all Gods and legends back in the day. There isn’t one of us who doesn’t carry around that sheet of music that Bruce Springsteen called “Glory Days.” There’s also not one among us who wouldn’t go back to visit if given the chance. Who wouldn’t enjoy being able to run and jump once more as kids or teenagers and re-experience any number of “firsts” that made those days so exciting and special? All of us would like one more touch or smell or listen. All of us would like one more opportunity to have tea and a midday conversation with someone we once loved and cared about.
But, I also doubt that there is one of us who would trade the chance to stay-and re-live their lives differently. Even if armed with all the knowledge they now have of the paths they took and the choices they made, all would want to return to the here and now. Why? Because as the famous UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, would remind his players, “The moment is your masterpiece. Don’t live in the past; you can’t do anything about the past. It will never change whether it’s yesterday or last year. The future is yet to be determined and can be influenced by what you do today. Today is the only day that really matters. That’s what I tried to teach.” Coach Wooden was right. The only guarantee that living in the past has–is to deny you the chance to compose the subsequent and ultimately final exciting chapters of your own life. Glance…but never stare.
“If you don’t leave your past in the past, it will destroy your future.
Live for what today has to offer, not for what yesterday has taken away. “