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.

Six score and ten

So, tomorrow I turn 70 years of age. Never thought I’d make 26. I had a bad way of destroying vehicles when I was a kid. Reckless driving and being a crazy teenager were the contributing factors. When I turned 23 I sort of came to my senses. I had been brain damaged for the previous 5 years following a car crash. Not a pleasant period in my life. At 23 I returned to school (Douglas College) and eventually went to Simon Fraser University, graduated with a BA in 1976 and an MA in 1981, both degrees in sociology.

A couple of years later I got a job teaching at North Island College after living in what we often referred to ‘sessional hell’ whereby we were hired on contract, one term at a time. No hint of job security.

Got married in 1973. Smart move on my part. Still married 43 years later. Smart move on my part. Not all smooth going. Still, we, Carolyn and I, have a great family and we still kind of love each other. We can still engage in home renovations without killing each other. That’s pretty good. We do a lot of things together. We are best friends, I think. Carolyn would have to comment on her side of the bargain.

Seventy years! That’s a long time. But it doesn’t really feel like it. The passing of time is strange. I don’t think about the past much. I do pay some attention to what I’ve learned in my discipline over the years. Sociology, both as a student and as a teacher, has allowed me to think deeply about the world we live in, our social and economic relations. It has also made me a lonely boy in a sense because I can’t share my ‘learnings’ in a meaningful way with many people, at least not like when I was still teaching. Since I’ve retired, I’ve published posts in this blog, have done some art work and have been busy with volunteer work. What I know and do is irrelevant to most people. I know that. I’m not indispensable nor special. But, it matters not. I live on. And now into old age.

I find it hard to wrap my head around the fact that I am 70 years old. But whatever, I’ll get over it soon. I’m committed to doing a drawing a day for 30 days. That keeps me busy just thinking about it! DOING is the key to my wellbeing, even if I have to do it while in pain most of the time. Just get over it, body! Carry on.