“Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.” ~ Will Rogers
It was getting late and the conversations in German, French, English and Spanish were starting to wear on my already tired brain. The year was 1993 and I had just completed a bicycle tour around Bavaria with a friend of mine, Charlie (the trip I mentioned in the post “A Brave and Determined Spirit“). I was on my way to Paris aboard the train sitting with Germans in front of me, a Frenchman to my left, and English couple behind me and Spaniards to my right.
For whatever reason, most of the passengers in my car were elderly, eager to talk and fascinating beyond words. While looking for the word “upheaval” in my French dictionary, the thought crossed my mind that several, if not all of these itinerant octogenarians were likely at war with one another earlier in their lives. The very people I was sitting in the middle of (or at least their friends or relatives) had likely shot at one another in their youth!
Never having fought in a war personally I can’t even imagine what a powerful impression that must leave on your mind and heart. I feel for those who have suffered the ravages of war. That said, what stood out to me at the time was neither a distaste for war nor chagrin for the inability of the human race to maintain peace, but rather a profound respect for the human capacity to let bygones be bygones.
While I do not know if any or all of them had forgiven or forgotten, I observed that they were able to enjoy one another without any hint of anger, lingering disdain or spite. A remarkable thing, really. At that point I realized that in any given moment of time you have the option to focus your attention on the past, the present or the future.
There is very little value in living in the past. For starters, you cannot do anything about the past. Past is past. Understanding the past may give you insight as to how to handle the present moment, but depending overly on your view of the past can distort your view on the present. You can no more decide what to do now by fixating on the past than you can focus on your first grade class photo and know exactly what your former friends will be wearing tomorrow.
Beyond that, people change and times change. What was important to our forefathers is not necessarily important to us now. Life is not static. It flows, it moves, its forms grow and decay. If you try to hold on to some element of the past – someone you hated, something you loved, an experience that you have yet to top – and superimpose it on your present circumstances, you will likely find yourself out of touch with what is really going on.
If you’ve ever lost your train of thought or had someone tell you that you needed a reality check, you know what I mean. For some reason you let your heart or mind get out of synch with the facts of the moment or of the matter. You got caught up living in the past, misinterpreting the present or perhaps even dreamily dwelling in the future, and in that moment you lost touch.
Life provides everyone with endless opportunities for growth and for change. If you develop the ability to stay focused in what is happening here and now – in every moment – you will gain more momentum in your living than you knew was possible. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.”
Have a good one!