Is It Wrong To Think About The Past A Lot?


Wrong. Right. These are moral concepts of course and play on our social and cultural expectations of proper behaviour.

Thinking about the past a lot may be contrary to some of the prime values of capitalism, growth, entrepreneurship, accumulation of money and compound interest. These values are all future oriented. What I find is that as I get older, I am less interested in the future because I have less of it, and I’m more preoccupied with the past, I think, because I have more of it. That’s not to say that I don’t think at all about the future, make plans, and that sort of thing, but my days being alive are numbered while my days lived accumulate, and accrue more interest every day.

Basically, this is a commentary on how people treat older people who keep bringing up stories of their youth or their prowess in sports, business, or what-have-you, or want to hang on to special keepsakes as they go into an elder care facility. We don’t have a lot of patience for people who “live in the past”. This isn’t true for everyone obviously, but I’ve witnessed older people (older than me) being discouraged from talking about the past or keeping special things with them as they moved into a care facility. The facility my mother went into as she got too old and demented allowed her to keep photos, trinkets, and some furniture. Not much, but enough. My mother wouldn’t have noticed in any case as she was profoundly affected by dementia for the last decade of her life.

Life presents to us some pretty basic patterns: We’re born with nothing and are given things for the first few years by our parents as necessities or as gifts, then we slowly start accumulating ‘stuff’, lots of ‘stuff.’ By the time we get to my age (72), we are expected to be less interested in stuff and more concerned with getting rid of said stuff. That’s all fine, but my stuff is a surrogate for my life. My books, drawings, paintings, prints, and sculptures accumulated over decades of teaching and art practice contain bits of me, especially those works that I produced myself. I look at my shelves at remember the context in which I acquired this or that book, did this or that painting. My life is largely in my past now. That’s not to say I don’t look forward to seeing my family in Vancouver, or relaxing by our pond. It just means that it’s reasonable for a person my age to spend more time thinking about what happened in days gone by, and unless there’s lots of money involved, worry about compound interest. In any case, I don’t know for how many of you this perspective holds true, but it’s mine and I’m keeping it.

Lately, Carolyn and I have talked about downsizing. We even put our house on the market for a few days, changing our minds ultimately for good reasons. That action was prompted by the fact that our aging bodies can’t handle the work involved in maintaining an acre of gardens. So we need help to keep this place going and that’s fine. But I fear downsizing too because I can see bits and pieces of my life disappear into the lives of strangers or into the landfill. I know I can’t take it with me, but until then, even if I never read another book on my shelves, I’d like them to stay just where they are.*

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  • There are exceptions to the books I need to keep, of course, but even the old sociology textbooks I have which are of no use to anybody are still an old part of me and I will grieve their passage into the landfill. It’s not so much the content of a book being of interest to anyone, it’s about how much interest it has (had) for me.

4 thoughts on “Is It Wrong To Think About The Past A Lot?

  1. Hi Roger, you know I moved to a much smaller house on Quadra, and I moved with a lot more ‘stuff’ than fits easily into this house. Much of that is ‘studio stuff’, and maybe a thousand books hahahaha
    I was ready to move, and not ready to let go of some treasures !! I am happy reading those last two paragraphs: ” Lately, Carolyn and I have talked about downsizing. We even put our house on the market for a few days, changing our minds ultimately for good reasons. That action was prompted by the fact that our aging bodies can’t handle the work involved in maintaining an acre of gardens. So we need help to keep this place going and that’s fine. But I fear downsizing too because I can see bits and pieces of my life disappear into the lives of strangers or into the landfill. I know I can’t take it with me, but until then, even if I never read another book on my shelves, I’d like them to stay just where they are.*
    There are exceptions to the books I need to keep, of course, but even the old sociology textbooks I have which are of no use to anybody are still an old part of me and I will grieve their passage into the landfill. It’s not so much the content of a book being of interest to anyone, it’s about how much interest it has (had) for me.” I have only been to your beautiful house a few times. ( I’ve become a bit of a mild hermit these last few years….) I think your house and garden are really enchanting, beautiful, magical, and yes, a lot of work. Getting help means you get to enjoy all of those things, and have more time for art, and peace and quiet and love and family and friends, and keep being enchanted with all the work you have already blessed your home with. Much love to you both, and your family, and of course, your furry friends. Oh those furry friends !!!! I haven’t felt settled enough yet to let another dog into my life. Cara’s spirit is always going to be part of that. I am thankful for that : ) Lots of love, Hooley.

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    1. Hi John,
      Carolyn and I looked at a house on Tozer road maybe three weeks ago while we were in a bit of a panic about what to do. We thought a change of scenery might help. The house was not far from where you lived. The real estate agent was Susan McLean (I think). She lived across the street from you and still does.
      In any case, thank you for your very thoughtful comment. My next blog post on the subject is more ‘scholarly.’ Stay tuned.

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  2. This piece truly sings with honesty. Really resonates, especially with us oldsters clinging to our life surrogate shelves as long as possible. A tear or two escaped while reading

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    1. I’ve always been curious about the reverence we have for ‘things’ and the roles they play as actors in our lives. My next blog post is more a more ‘scholarly’ treatment of the subject. Thanks for your comments. I always appreciate what you have to say.

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