I’ve written lately about how all the various people we’ve been exist inside the people we are now. I am frankly spellbound by the persistence of the past, by the way that carrying our scars and joys subtly alters our gait as we make our way through life.
It is hard-won, and earned, the eventual realization that we are finally who we are supposed to be. That slow-dawning awareness is the space in which we can recognize, at last, the continued presence of those we have been along the way, and in which we can parse the way various people and influences have contributed to the contours of who we are.
Is the reverse also true? Can we look back on our past and see strands of that truth woven through our lives? From our spot at the top of the roller coaster, as Dani Shapiro so poignantly describes in Devotion, can we look back and see moments that hinted at the place we find ourselves now? My instinct says yes. This is something I’ve explored the edges of before, I realize, in a post from March called Beyond the headlights, retrospect and prospect, and letting go of my need for order. That post probed on the “thing that makes it all make sense,” but it hews to a similar theme: at a certain point in our lives, with the understanding we’ve garnered over years, the path that may have seemed winding or random starts making sense.
What I’m thinking about today is slightly different: are there specific proclivities or choices we made in our younger years that hinted at the truest self we now know? I think yes. One example is the way I’ve spent many years being misunderstood as an extrovert. I’ve written about being an introverted connector, and the latter half of that descriptor has been sufficiently strong to influence the way people interpret me. But every year in boarding school, college, and in my pre-married life I chose to live alone (a single exception: my sophomore year at Princeton). That is not the behavior of a true extrovert, and it makes sense now: I needed (and still do) a place to be by alone, to gather myself back together after spending my energy all day.
That is just one example, but the larger point, I think, is the way that the past and present – even the future – run through our lives, glinting in the light, sometimes visible to our eye and sometimes not. It is not surprising to me, then, that I’m occasionally aware of the past pressing on me in a powerful, real way. Something visceral endures from who we were, and from the road we’ve traveled. Our samskaras (another beautiful image from Dani Shapiro) live on inside us, just as the potential and promise of who we are now guided us, albeit beyond all logical understanding, as we navigated our way here.
8 thoughts on “The past, present, and future run through our lives, glinting in the light”
I am right with you on this and also am starting to think that the myriad people who cross our paths in ways fleeting and enduring are also, in some sense, the many selves we have been and will be, or better, the infinite selves that we truly already are in the eternal now.
Perhaps understanding the vastness of our situation is beyond our conscious minds, but the loving of it all may not be.
Isn’t that something caring for children offers organically to teach us?
This is why I have always loved the name of your site…
I know you like Catherine Newman. I was wondering if you saw this column written by her. I thought it was really good:
I did! I loved it and just tweeted it this morning. Great minds. 🙂
I missed that tweet. I’ll have to pay more attention next time 🙂
I find myself akin to you on many levels and layers of how you describe yourself. I was invited to write an essay over at Tracey Clark and it was just published this week:
I, too, have been pondering this. The power of our past selves and how much jurisdiction those pasts have on the now. Sometimes I feel as I give too much leeway to the negatives of the past.
Or, maybe, what I do is wrongly judge the “negative” events themselves. Weren’t they the stepping stones of introspection, awareness and growth?
Apparently, you’ve struck a chord :). And apparently I’m writing a journal entry in your comments section.
This is just what I needed to hear today! I think that our past selves and future selves are all within us all of the time (even if we don’t realize it!). Recently, I’ve been practicing being more authentic. Although I consider myself to be a very authentic person, I have often not felt “safe” in sharing all of my true feelings and needs with others (and sometimes myself). Looking to my past selves (I’m particularly fond of my brave 7-yr old self) has been so important to sorting through who I really am (vs. who I think I should be). Thank you again for your words – just the right thing at the right time.
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