I spend a lot of time thinking about the past. At times I’ve felt some shame about this habit of thought–sort of like shame about an addiction. One good friend and mentor has gently chided me about this by stating that he is working on being more “present” – especially with his family and his clients. Also, a spiritual guru who I respect greatly, Graham Cooke, speaks of God being the God of “time present” and “time future.” And there’s an implication there for Christians not to dwell in the past but instead focus on the future and the present.
Sometimes I worry about spending too much time abiding in the past. My favorite TV shows are often reruns, and I watch the documentaries about WW II on the various history channels over and over. I was born during “The War” and watching the old newsreel footage seems to keep me in touch with my childhood. My childhood wasn’t idyllic but most of the memories I dwell on are pleasant ones. Some memories are archived in my neurons because photos are associated with them. For instance, there is a picture of me with my toys at Christmas, 1946. There is a formal portrait of me taken earlier that year in a sailor suit. My mother “bought” the suit just for the pic and then returned it to the store afterwards and got her money back. Those two scenes pop up a lot.
Are all of these childhood memories just guilty pleasures that keep me from living more fully in the present? I worry that my obsession with the past is just some satanically inspired waste of time. I hope not. I am of the view that the past, present and future all exist in the same moment. I think Einstein believed something like that–our sense of time passing being illusory.
People have commented on my memory, like how I never seem to forget anything. That’s certainly not true, but my ability to recall events, numbers and dates likely is better than average That is a helpful quality for being a counselor. I don’t need to take many notes. And that’s good because in addition to my good memory I’m also rather lazy. I dont care for the drudgery of writing case notes.
Four memories that haunt my thoughts:
(1) In December 1960, at Christmas break I rode a Greyhound from Las Cruces, New Mexico to my hometown in Ohio. On the way up the bus stopped at a stoplight in Tularosa, N.M. We were not much more than an hour into our journey. It was night. Standing at the curb under a streetlight was a black woman and her son who was about eight or nine. Something about them touched my soul and that scene has haunted me for five decades. Who were they? Were they lost? Did the boy grow up and have a good life? Later on that same journey I saw “Colored Only” drinking fountains and restrooms and I thought about that boy and his mom.
(2) I take a walk thru my neighborhood almost every morning. Its exercise and its probably my most effective coping technique. Its a woodsy neighborhood, there’s not much traffic and so my walks are quite pleasant. About 15 years ago there was a boy who lived down the street and around the bend. Most mornings our paths would cross–me on my morning walk and him on the way to the school bus stop. He was always accompanied by a big mut dog that appeared to be part yellow Lab and part Rhodesian Ridgeback. The dog would accompany him to the bus stop, wait till his pal got on and then he would amble the half mile back to their house. The boy was kind of a shy, redneck kid. He usually avoided eye contact with me. I would nod hello and once in a while he would mumble some greeting. I watched him grow up from around age-13 to 16. He eventually grew to over six feet. He dropped out of high school and started his own lawn business. Eventually, the family moved away. The image I think back to was the big dog trotting by his side and its loyalty–the dog patiently waiting for him at the bus stop and walking him back and forth to their home. Every kid should be blessed with a dog like that.
(3) During the summer when I was 19, I had a job as a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman. Being very shy I wasn’t very good at it, but it did help me grow out of my shell some and it provided me with a wealth of stories and images to reflect on. I dont recall the name of the small town I was working one sweltering July afternoon but I do recall a cute blonde who answered my knock on her door. I was sorry her parents weren’t in as they were the ones I’d make the pitch to. The girl was about 17 and I would really have liked to have gotten to know her. The house was on a corner and as I turned to head down the side street I passed their back yard. Hanging on the clothes line was a aqua green bikini with white poka dots. There was a lounge chair near the back steps. At that moment my brian ran wild with all sorts of fantasies about the cute blonde sunning herself. At that stage in my life I had never had a date and my social life with the opposite sex was about 99% daydreams. A ways down the side street I spied a Dairy Queen and quick-stepped in that direction. I cooled my ardor for the blonde with a sundae topped with cherries and crushed nuts–in retrospect, all too appropriate and metaphoric.
(4) Three or four years ago I went to a Saturday nite movie with a friend and afterwards we went to a Denny’s for a bite. As we talked I noticed three young black girls sitting at a table behind my friend. They were about 19 or 20 and were out for an inexpensive nite on the town, and like us, probably went to a movie too. They were indulging in the simplest of all pleasures–eating. And they were doing it with such profound enjoyment that I was touched in a way that is difficult to put into words. The scene of those young ladies enjoying life in a totally natural and candid fashion caused me to well up a bit. That scene keeps coming back to me. I hope they haven’t gained too much weight and I hope that they’ve all found nice young men to share their Saturday nites with. I guess I could have prayed for them that night and since but I havn’t.
When I count it a blessing that God gave me a quirky memory it makes it easier to avoid the guilt accompanying the pleasures of spending so much time in time past. I can only hope that it has made me both a better lover of His creation and of other people.