The Best Days Lie Ahead, Not Behind
Although our brain allows us a free replay button, there is no pause button and no fast-forward. Still, there is excitement in the both the continuity and the uncertainty.
Sometimes when I watch particularly good shows or movies on Netflix, I pause mid-stream at moments of heightened drama. A part of me wants to hold on to the suspense and emotion as the scene unfolds before me. It is as if I am not ready for it to end. I am making an unconscious acknowledgement: the resolution of drama may be sweet but it may also be final. So I take time to mentally prepare because I can’t un-see what comes next. I do this even when I’ve seen the ending, or when I know this is an small part of a larger story.
In short, it’s an attempt to freeze time when the times are good. This is a small indication of my reluctance to accept that things will be different going forward. I am also amused by the idea that you can go back and see exactly where the plot took a turn. My real life equivalent of this is nostalgia.
Nostalgia comes to me in flashes. A song that takes me back, a word that signals brings me the voice of someone I once knew. It makes me think: sometimes life seems to be moving too fast and also not at all. I’ll have this moment for what seems like eternity and yet, I am fighting the urge not become consumed with the moment that things were at their height before change inevitably swooped in.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to return to my former college, my home for three magnificent years. As I walked the same paths that once led me to class, I found myself conflicted. I went to my favorite places, caught up with a number of friends who were still there, hiked my favorite trails. I did all of these in search of the same emotions these things once provided. To both my dismay and appreciation, it was not the same.
Though only two short years have passed, the places were different in small but noticeable ways — a new restaurant or hotel, or small updates to a building that was once known for its archaic design. The people who’d had such meaningful impact on me, maturing (as I hope I have) with new jobs, big life updates, or simply a well-groomed beard. The hiking trails now featured new signs, playgrounds, and water fountains.
You can surround yourself with all of the things from the past — the people, the places, the activities — but you can not go backwards.
In a visceral way I found myself realizing something important. You can surround yourself with all of the things from the past — the people, the places, the activities — but you can not go backwards. Things will never be as they once were. Neither will I. Time is brutal in its persistence. Against our deepest desire for it to slow, it trudges on. This is invigorating realization, but it doesn’t make it any easier to accept.
Time is brutal in its persistence. Against our deepest desire for it to slow, it trudges on.
When I think about my happiest times, I’m often drawn to intimate and fleeting past experiences. That time a friend and I created an inebriated cardio workout to Usher’s scream. Or that off-trail hike where we raced against the setting sun down the side of a steep hill. These experiences were impactful. They drew me closer to the people I was with. They revealed parts of myself that I hadn’t noticed before. Most importantly, they created the framework that I will compare all of the following experiences I have and neatly bookmarked themselves as the “good times.”
It is possible that I will walk around comparing many of my future experiences to the good times of my life. The past is a great reference point for what the future could be. But it is essential that we don’t allow these feelings to inhibit my ability to have new experiences. Some of these experiences will shatter our idea of what we had previously considered our best times. This requires us to be open to having these experiences, and that we appreciate the past but that I don’t become consumed with it.
Many of us feel nostalgia often. Facebook makes it easy — offering little reminders about how things once were. We can smile at the good times, revisit them for just a moment not as an actor but as audience member who knows how the scene plays into the overall plot. Even still, there is still time for the ending to change.
When I look back on the good times, I wonder if I carried this nostalgia even in those moments. I wonder if I longed to be some place else as I was living through some of the greatest memories of my life. I also wonder if using the past as a reference point means that the best days are behind me. The reality is that we use the past as a measuring device not because it is our upper limit of what is possible. We do it because it helps us understand the significance of future events. In the process, it may set a bar for what makes a good experience. Yet the thing about the bar set by nostalgia is that it isn’t set in stone. Just as memories of the past shattered my expectations, so too can experiences of the future.
Although our brain allows us a free replay button, there is no pause button on reality. Our stories are still being written and while we may be drawn to the points just before dramatic changes, there is still time for better experiences than we’ve previously known.
Thank you for reading…