L.P. Hartley famously said the 'the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.' It's not difficult to see what he means. We are no longer the same as we once were. Our actions, our behaviour, our appearance, our attitudes will have changed, sometimes drastically, sometimes subtly and yet who we once were is part of who we are in the present - what we have become.
Recent events have caused me to think about the way we move through time...we have no choice but kicking, screaming or dancing to move through the moments and the hours. Without time we would not move, we would not create, we would not co-operate in the narrative of our life.
I was in the library yesterday and came across a book in which some American self-help writer was giving advice on how to live an authentic life. All well and good I thought, flicking through the pages, but then I came across a statement which said that the cause of all our problems is believing in the stories we tell ourselves. I have to say, I didn't like her choice of language. I suppose the writer of the self-help book was referring to 'negative' ideas rather than 'stories' in the way I use the term. Describing negative expectations as 'stories we tell ourselves' totally devalues the whole idea of story. If we read good stories and if we recognise and value our own stories then I think we act creatively. To me the word 'story' is a very powerful word: it has characters and settings and mysteries and twists in the plot that we are not meant to be known in advance. It helps me to see life as a process in which we participate, and even co-operate, but which we do not design. Through our story, our own personal and communal narratives, we have the opportunity to grow, to become....to be in the moment, as it moves through the past and into the future...never stopping, never fully in control but, hopefully not out of control either...In my imagination, as each moment passes I am in the process of being written.
When we look back at out past, it's a little bit like reading a well thumbed novel. We might try and grasp motive and character and twists of fate and pinpoint where we acted wisely, messed up, enjoyed, felt miserable and so on...but we cannot rewrite it, we cannot change it but, maybe, if we are lucky, we learn a little.
As I leave the past behind and move into the future, I trust the author has my best interests at heart and that maybe there's some happy chapters here and there but I have to be prepared to trust and recognise that I really don't know how it will all pan out. It's a process forever under construction.
Hmmn.. I appear to have lost L.P. Hartley. The image of a foreign country is a good one but I can, if I want to, actually visit foreign countries and examine their the culture, the customs, the works of art, the slums, etc. But the only place I can visit the past is through the memories inside my head and when I look back it's not really foreign at all - I recognise it all too well and am reminded that I ought not to linger there too long - for once I have made my peace and my reparations, I realise it is the present that really needs my attention.