Sunday, April 7, 2024


The Past: Visiting Times Limited

      I have a picture in my mind's eye of a family gathering in what appears to be an idyllic setting. The grandfather is settled comfortably in his chair in the living room. Family, including adult children and grandchildren, are there. They have come to hear stories and to fill in the blanks of what they want to know of his past. Someone asks about the tornado. A granddaughter wants to know about the time he spent in the Army. One of the questions is about his growing up years. There are also questions about his college years.  And so, the questions continue well into the night. It is a perfect setting for a sentimental journey.

    I  pause before I place myself in that picture. I enjoy telling old stories. However, when I try to fill in the blanks of my past life, there is just too much I simply don’t recall. And that really bothers me. I know a lot of folks say pretty much the same thing about remembering the past, but it really is a problem for me.  

Another reason I hesitate about taking my place in the picture has to do with what I call emotional undertow.

Once, a long time ago when I was in my teens, I was swimming in the Gulf of Mexico at Destin, Florida. I swam a good way out and all of a sudden, I was aware of a current pulling me even farther out. It startled me but I was able to turn and head back to shore. When I told Dad what had happened, he explained that there is often a current of water below the surface of the ocean moving in a different direction from the surface current. It’s called an undertow and while it seems weak at first, it is strong enough to pull even a strong swimmer out against his will.  If I hadn’t turned when I did, I could have been in serious trouble.

          A trip to the past can and should be heartwarming but it can also be an emotional undertow if we use it to avoid today's challenges. I am reminded that when I do travel to the past, I should have a very good reason, pack light and return home as soon as possible. If I stay too long, the trip will not only lose its value but distract me from the joy of the present. In the community in which we have chosen to live, we see that conundrum daily. That is why I always say that the past is a good place to visit, I just don't want to live there.

So, I'm thinking about a paradigm shift. I will change the picture above to include stories from the present, stories which everyone present can share. That being said, I’ll take my place in it and celebrate the moment.