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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Romanticizing the Past

"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past." Isaiah 43:18

Sometimes a sunset is just more beautiful than a sunrise. For the purposes of this post, pretend that this is the origin of the phrase "wearing rose-colored glasses," that it's somehow based off being mesmerized by that gorgeous, glowing end of the day—and quite forgetting whatever flaws the day itself may have had. I find that all too easy to do. And when the past is draped in soft layers of orangey pink and sits there blooming over the horizon like a sky-sized Florida postcard, can you really blame me for looking at it with something between yearning and heartsick hope?

I have a nasty tendency to romanticize the past.

I say it's a nasty tendency because it makes me blind to the beauty of the present and, more often than not, keeps me from accurate recollection. It's easier to remember things at their best, and to some extent this is healthy. "Remember the good times." Isn't that the advice they give you? But how do you know if you're simply remembering things positively for the sake of preserving the best of the past, or if, instead, you are whitewashing controversies, sugarcoating tragedies, or even fabricating memories by "remembering" things that never happened at all?

This is my struggle. I know that I am not the only one to struggle with this, but I think I also probably obsess about it more than others.

So why the need to write about this right now? Because last night I dreamt of someone I have lost. Someone whom I can now experience only through the realm of memory. And if that realm is flawed, so is my experience of this precious person. Reality is lost in the chasm of the years, and all I can do is grasp after the way I remember things... a naturally flawed version of the truth.

Perhaps I should just let it go. Perhaps I should accept that my memory is what it is, and there is nothing I can do to improve it, no way to verify the accuracy of the moments I recall in my mind. If it is romanticized, so be it. Why begrudge myself the happy memories, regardless of whether they might be exaggerated or whether their true hue was less rosy than I remember it?

They—those same people who tell you to "remember the good times"—also admonish against what I have been doing: spending too much time (and energy and angst, etc.) looking backwards and not enough time (and hope and enthusiasm, etc.) focusing on the future. "You can't live in the past." That's what they tell me. To which I feel like replying in an angry roar, "Why NOT?! What's wrong with that? What if I like it better there, huh? What if that's where I feel most alive, most content, most at home? What if the present and the future are scary places I don't feel like facing?"

But my tirade ends with a reality check. I have a lot to look forward to. There are books to be read (and edited, or perhaps even written), movies to be watched, songs to be sung, forests to be explored, friends to be made, maybe even children to be parented, God willing. With so much to look forward to, why do I insist on spending inordinate amounts of time looking back, longingly, as if pleading for the diminishing images of the past to come back and grow larger in my vision instead of growing ever smaller with each passing day?

I am acutely aware that this post has become both far too personal and far too philosophical. But it's too late to write a new one now, so there you have it.

No neat solutions. No witty jokes. No winking allusions to pop culture or memes or self-effacing humor. This is where I am tonight. If I have depressed you, please forgive me. If I have made you think about your own memories and reconsider your perspective of the past, I hope it was worth the read. Either way, I welcome your responses.

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