Some people are adamant that you shouldn’t go back in time and revisit your past. ‘What’s done is done’ they argue ‘and can’t be changed or altered anymore.’ Often times these people don’t want to go back to their early childhood, high school or college years, past relationships, old jobs or collateral experiences of a life long since lived. They’ve closed the book on their past and only want to dwell on the present.
I find myself shouldering up to the other end of that spectrum. I would argue that you can go back and examine with the cold, calculating eye of a time-warped traveler relevant questions such as ‘why did things turn out the way they did?’, ‘what really happened between me and someone else?’ what was reality instead of ‘what if?’ In short, I think you can search your past for the building blocks that brought you to your present state of mind. I call it data mining or fact-based research reflecting on your life.
I have a friend who has defined three stages in our lives. With an apology upfront for possibly misrepresenting some of his findings, I believe he has defined the three stages as: Self-discovery, self-exploration and finally self-examination.
He believes we spend the first part of our lives discovering our own identity. Who were we as children growing up, experiences in education, finding a spouse and becoming a parents? The second stage is work-orientated where we hone our job skills, find a career that moves us forward and cements our place in the world of adults. The third and final stage is that of reflection and self-examination. Where are we relative to everyone else and how did we get here?
I have always argued that if you are comfortable with your present state of affairs, you can go back and examine your past with your feet still firmly planted in the present. You can look, without a jaundice eye, at what went wrong and why, what worked and why, where you are today relative to those around you.
Many would argue ‘who cares?’ and maybe they have a point. If you don’t care why you turned out the way you did then it probably doesn’t really matter to yourself or those around you. If you care but realize you can’t change the past then what’s the point? Because, I believe, in the end you had a life and it’s into the fourth quarter now. So how did things turn out? And if you don’t like what you see, what can you do about it.
I’m giving a workshop this fall in ‘How to Begin Writing.’ Just like the workshop I conducted last spring, I expect most of my audience will consist of seniors sprinkled with a few of the younger sect. To a person they want to write but don’t know how to get started. Few if any want to become published authors. They just want to fulfill a lifetime ambition of putting thoughts to paper in some readable form and fashion. I’m going to tell them how to begin that process.
Part of that process will be an examination of their past and what they’d like to share with others about it. It might be painful. It might be exhilarating. It will be revealing; peeling back the layers of their lives that haven’t felt the touch of a pen or keyboard in a lifetime. For all it will be enormously satisfying…if only for themselves.
I guess in the end it doesn’t really matter if a person reflects on their existence or leaves it closed shut in the darkness of the past. Each of us is on a journey called life. Some live it day-to-day and others like to cast a glance over their shoulder once in a while. We’re all going to get to the end of the trail one way or another.
I like where I’ve been and don’t mind ruminating about those old adventures every once in a while…and look forward to many more in my future.