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Perfectable Perdu

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

I’ve heard there are people who live only in the present, as either free spirits or enlightened Zen masters. I don’t personally know any of them, and can only think of them in the same way as Plato’s troglodytes could picture life outside. The picture is rather fuzzy—possibly warm and fuzzy, but fuzzy nonetheless.
I’m not one of them.
Certainly there are others who live only for the future. Whether they long for a Christian hereafter, or some form of paradise on earth, Utopia is where they want to live. Their goal is “a future so bright they’ve got to wear shades.”
I’m not one of them, either. 
The present is just too slippery, too evanescent, to hold onto, and the future—well who’s to say if there will even be a future? So what does that leave me? While there are philosophical and scientific arguments about the nature of time—and if it even exists—the only “time” I’m able to comprehend is the past. With increasing age, the ratio of the past to the future increases, so it’s only natural that I spend more time there.
Also, with advancing age, faith in the perfectibility of the future decreases (experience tends to make us less optimistic). The past, however, just gets better and better. Our rearview mirrors are often rose-tinted—and the further into the past we look, the rosier it appears. Its tense becomes increasingly pluperfect.
One of past’s best attributes is its malleability. We may not be able to change the facts of the past—as the events, themselves, are no longer available—but their interpretation is infinitely variable. It’s a cliché that “history is written by the victors,” but all memory is constantly re-written, by winners and losers alike. Needless to say, everyone comes out looking better in the memories of events in their pasts. The past is a lovely place to visit, and we’d all love to live there.

And we do.

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