We were both born in the same year, he a few months before me, and while we came from different circumstances and cultures, we shared the same “times” growing up. Often, when we attended the same meetings, he or I would interject something from our growing up years, and we would be the only ones who knew what we were talking about. Far from being rude or exclusive, these were funny moments of comparisons that balanced the life that we were currently living, to a life we had lived in a different time and place. It always made me smile.
As I have grown older I have developed a fascination with time. It’s not simply that I see the light at the end of my tunnel, but I have questions. How did I waste time when I did or did not do this or that? How could time pass so rapidly when my children were growing up? How can I ponder all the wonder years of marriage when the time shot by in fast forward? How did I find the time to make so many mistakes? They say that time flies when you are having fun and that’s true. It is also true that time flies when you are not having fun, which makes my thinking about time in the past tense confusing. I find it difficult to separate and balance the good and the bad things that happened in my past into a cohesive recollection. Fondly or humorously reminiscing, and I am a serial reminiscer, doesn’t always allow me an accurate picture of the life that I am remembering. When my friend and I would wax fondly about the days of our youth, we were probably forgetting many of the less endearing and critical moments of our past.
And that’s the bite that comes with the past; what happened, happened and no matter what I want to make of it, no matter how hard I pleasantly try to spin it, the ugly or painful times will never change. I am reminded of Omar Khayyám’s wonderful comment in his Rubáiyát, “the moving finger having writ, moves on; nor all thy piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.”
Time, like that finger, moves relentlessly on, and the notion that I can accurately grasp, or live honestly in a past moment of it, is an illusion. No matter how seductive or attractive it seems to a reminiscer like me, I can’t move back into my past and live there.
There are some dark things in my past that still live in tough neighborhoods, and while I have limited enthusiasm for revisiting them or reliving them, they are not forgotten. My past does have value as the prologue to my present. The Spanish philosopher George Santayana reminds us that “those who forget their past are doomed to repeat it;” those experiences have shaped who I am today.
Today, the present is my dwelling place. Emotionally, mentally, and spiritually I try to stay connected with my daily life. For me, the power of now is living in my today, with the wisdom of my past and a curiosity about what’s next.
As for the future, I’ll let you know when it arrives.
Ted Furlow is a retired former Director of Pastoral Planning for the Diocese of San Bernardino and continues in marriage preparation ministry in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.