Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Past Is the Past, and Yet We Go On

In recent days, and particularly after having watched Yi Yi, I have thought about the truism written in the above title.  A truism that is perhaps one of the hardest truisms for men and women to learn, and certainly one of the hardest and harshest truisms that I've had to learn.

I've known, for a long time, that the past cannot be the present, but I often wished that it were.  What I didn't realize is that not only can that never be, but that never should be.  I'm not saying that we don't get second chances in life, but there comes a point where a decision will lead you down a road, and you can't go back to the fork and take the other path.  And even when we are given second chances, they are really first chances, for the circumstances around the choice that we didn't make the first time have changed.

In middle school and high school, I often wished that I was still friends with two of my best friends from elementary school: Matt and Steve.  But it was not to be.  They had changed; I had changed in different ways.  And then when I graduated from high school and went to college, many of my high school friends vanished from view.  Thanks to Facebook, I am now in contact with many of them again, but even there, how many of them do I regularly talk to?  And how many of those friendships have gone through transformations, either on my end or theirs, or both?

This also applies to places.  When I went back to Harrisonburg to try and live and work near the college that I graduated from three years earlier, I was doomed to fail, because I had remembered the town as a student, and had been there with other students.  When I went there again, I arrived in the summer, when most of the college kids were home, and I was left with the harsh reality that Harrisonburg was nothing without JMU, and JMU was now a memory.  That is why, though I would like to revisit London some day, I know I can't copy the experience of my semester abroad there.  If I tried, I would only remember an old memory and what was, rather than make a new memory out of what is.

But, of course, the big experience that I will never repeat, can never repeat, anywhere in the world, is the experience I had in Japan.  A three year experience with a cast of characters and situations that I could never hope to realign.  And so, of all of the places I wish to revisit, Japan is the one that I worry about the most, for it is the place where I am in the most danger of falling into the clutches of the past, instead of forming new memories with my friends there.  It is healthy to remember what has gone on before, but it is not healthy to wallow in memories.  Wallowing in memories prevents new ones from forming.

That is one reason I came to Seattle.  I could not escape the spectre of Japan in Connecticut, because nothing was there to remind me of my trip, and so I missed all aspects of it.  Here, I hope to slowly wean myself off of my Japanese adventure, while making new memories and connections associated with Japan, via the Japanese Meetup Group that I joined soon after arriving here.

Of course, the only foolproof way of preventing myself from wallowing in old memories is to create new ones.  Sitting in my room all day, typing away on a computer screen, doesn't help (well, okay, it helps a little if I'm typing TO someone, but it's a poor substitute for talking to someone face-to-face).  I must be active, which is why getting a job as a barista, though part-time and not high paying (though with great benefits), has helped with my well-being tremendously.  Also, I have some events planned this weekend and later in the month, in order to get me out of the house in a non-work setting.  Otherwise, how can I form an opinion about a city that I never get to explore, whose citizens I never meet, whose customs I never try, whose food I never eat, whose nightlife I never sample (I'm talking karaoke, folks :-))?

Anyway, these are my thoughts.  I turn thirty-one later this month, so now is a good time to take stock of where I am, and where I still must go.


  1. Clear, interesting, straight from the barrel. I postpone comments on the burning philosophical issues.

  2. I have not gone many places, yet the more I travel, the more I feel that I can never be back to the same place. Even if I physically get back to a place I miss, changes and time have dyed it in a way that it no longer looks or feels the way I remember it. Every time, I feel that the actual place I love only truly exists in my heart rather than on the ground.

    It's good that you have such deep memories of Japan. It's also good that you're now outside of Japan hitting a point where you want to do something else. Sometimes I wonder whether it's true that the best way to preserve love for a place is to be away from it, so that every now and then it will be almost painful missing it. That pain, nonetheless, is probably much less painful than the pain of being exactly where you think you want to be feeling more disconnected as each day goes by. I'm not saying that if you go back to Japan now it will be an unpleasant experience; I'm just saying that given your current point in life, even the smallest probability of it happening will be too much. When I love something that dearly, I loathe the possibility of me being bored or disappointed with it one day. I'd rather keep my good memories intact.

    Perhaps you have a different way to look at it :) Maybe not as... well... pessimistic as mine seems to be.

  3. @S.M.
    I look forward to your comments on "burning philosophical issues" in the coming days. ;-)
    Thank you for your comment. I do think that we can return to places we have been to before and remember the good times we had there, so long as we bring someone with us who wasn't there the first time. That way, we can reclaim the place from our memories, without having to forget. I do agree, though, that it's best to let those memories settle, especially if there aren't any intervening great memories to block them off from the present.

  4. On a personal note, the challenges and headaches of the present leave little scope to dwell on the past or the future. May I share some quotes:

    1."Life is the accumulation of all the moments we live. One who cannot live meaningfully today cannot hope to lead a brilliant life tomorrow. No matter what grand plans one makes, if he does not value each moment, they will be just so many castles in the air. All the causes in the past and all the effects in the future are condensed within the present moment of life. Whether or not we improve our state of life at this moment will determine whether we can expiate the evils we have caused since the infinite past and be able to build up good fortune to remain for all eternity. The key is whether or not we have faith strong enough to decide that this may be the last moment of our life. The above passage, therefore, gives us the principle for changing our karma."..Daisaku Ikeda.

    2."Four years ago in spring, I went to London at the invitation of Dr. Toynbee for my second meeting with the British historian. After spending five days talking with him, I went to Paris, and from there rode a train for two hours to the Loire. Clear streams washing grassy banks, flocks of sheep, steeples of ancient castles, paths where birds chirped, quiet woods, flowers in full bloom, ageless farmhouses built of stone --- in such surroundings stood the ivy-covered house where Leonardo da Vinci spent his later years. In the bedroom where he ended his life there was a copper plate on which were engraved his words:

    A substantial life is long.
    Meaningful days give one a good sleep.
    A fulfilled life gives one a quiet death.

    C. G. Jung said, "From the middle of life onward, only he remains vitally alive who is ready to die with life." [C. G. Jung, The Meaning of Death (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1959), p. 6.] Jung's remark probably originated from his belief that the latter half of one's life is especially important. In a way, however, to be ready to "die with life" may be necessary throughout one's lifetime. Perhaps we can say that only those with such a determination will prove to have lived a truly vital life."..Daisaku Ikeda.

    3."How swiftly the days pass! It makes us realize how few are the years we have left. Friends enjoy the cherry blossoms together on spring mornings, and then they are gone, carried away like the blossoms by the winds of impermanence, leaving nothing but their names. Although the blossoms have scattered, the cherry trees will bloom again with the coming of spring, but when will those people be reborn? The companions with whom we enjoyed compos
    ing poems praising the moon on autumn evenings have vanished with the moon behind the shifting clouds. Only their mute images remain in our hearts. Though the moon has set behind the western mountains, we will compose poetry under it again next autumn. But where are our companions who have passed away? Even when the approaching tiger of death3 roars, we do not hear and are not startled. How many more days are left to the sheep bound for slaughter?"..Nichiren Daishonin.

    4.And from the bard:
    "When I do count the clock that tells the time,
    And see the brave day sunk in hideous night,
    When I behold the violet past prime,
    And sable curls all silvered o'er with white:
    When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
    Which erst from heat did canopy the herd
    And summer's green all girded up in sheaves
    Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard:
    Then of thy beauty do I question make
    That thou among the wastes of time must go,
    Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake,
    And die as fast as they see others grow,
    And nothing 'gainst Time's scythe can make defence
    Save breed to brave him, when he takes thee hence."

  5. And this is why I love receiving comments from you, S.M. :-)

  6. I just had to tweet this excellent post. It automatically injects me with memories long gone. A wonderful bittersweet piece by one of my favorite bloggers on the web.

  7. *blushes*
    I'm glad you enjoyed it, Wael. I love your posts, too. I feel smarter after reading them. :-)

  8. This reminds me of an excerpt from Waterland: "And that remark, first put about two and a half thousand years ago by Heraclitus of Ephesus, that we cannot step twice into the same river, is not to be trusted. Because we are always stepping into the same river."


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.