“The past is a foreign country;
they do things differently there.
~ L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between
A young boy stirs in the backseat, as the car transports him and his family across town, but in his mind he’s already there, sitting on his grandfather’s lap as the older man tells stories of his younger days. To the boy, the tales seem almost fantastical – to picture his grandfather as anything other than that stretches the boy’s imagination.
This seems a familiar thread, common across generations and cultures, and not simply a contemporary phenomenon. Other common threads include the adolescent who is almost (if not completely) disengaged from those same stories – some he may have heard (though not “a million times” as he tends to claim with a roll of his eyes, between quick glances at the clock, or out the window, or anywhere else where he might be missing out on life happening) and some are stories which may have remained untold until then – and later, as a young man, when it’s too late to learn first-hand, he may overhear stories second-hand and realize he knew very little about his grandfather (or about whomever those stories were told). At least that’s been my experience.
In the last couple posts we’ve alluded to the value of slowing down and being present in the moment. And if these posts merely convey one morsel of information that might help someone live a richer and more fulfilling life, that could arguably be the most useful morsel of all. In part, because a lot of other benefits arise from it, like the opportunity to re-connect with what matters, to re-imagine the possibilities available to us, and to re-write the story of our lives . . . from this point on.
It all begins, I believe, with mindfulness, with being present in the moment.
And we’ve focused, to some degree at least, on slowing down in nature and the importance of reconnecting with the world around us. However, summer appears to be a time of remembering, as well, and of paying homage – with Memorial Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and now a two-weekend double-dose of Independence Day celebration. These holidays are often moments spent with family. And being present in the moment then is equally important. Yes, the stories shared are often about the past. But some of those stories inform our own. Some of those stories bring us closer to the place from which we come (the land, the culture, the people). Reconnecting with them is another way we can often reconnect more fully with ourselves.
I have many stories from my childhood that still influence the present moment (like being eight and climbing the brick face of a school building to hide on the roof just to avoid recess, or being jumped by several classmates, or sticking up for a boy I’d never even met). And I’ve also gleaned bits of stories about my family, too late to learn as much as I could have (like having a quiet grandfather who had left home at fourteen and tramped around the country). I’ve missed out on a lot of stories entirely because I was too impatient to truly listen (like having a great-great grandfather who was a full-blooded Sioux, who’s name I have adopted for my writing).
As writers, we sometimes explore our stories through words (I’m working on two novels and one novel-in-verse about those parenthetical stories just mentioned). Doing so, helps further connect us to our past and to our present selves. When shared, it can also connect us to others and connect them to us in often profound ways because, chances are, many of us have similar stories in our own histories.
“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened” – Mark Twain
There’s a difference, though, between being present in the moment and reflecting on stories that have shaped us (directly and indirectly) and dwelling on the past and living one’s life there (stuck in that what-if could-have-been place, forever entangled there with regret) as many people spend their present moments doing, if not thrust ahead, perpetually propelled into the future (apprehensively strapped to a missile rocketing straight toward seemingly endless imagined fears and concerns and even deaths that, as Mark Twain suggested, never happen). And that difference is another of the benefits of intentionally slowing down and being mindful.