Among other things, Mae West humorously observed, “Women like a man with a past, but they prefer a man with a present.” More recently the American humorist Evan Esar noted that, “The girl with a future avoids a man with a past.”
Seriously, what do we do with the past? More specifically what do we do with our own past? I’ve been pondering this of late and came up with three things we tend to do with our past; reject it, relive it or remember it.
For some the past is so painful that they reject it, they ignore it hoping to outrun or outlive it. I find this rarely works. The past so often comes back to haunt us which leads to the second thing, we relive it.
A wise counselor once told me that most people don’t live 60 or 70 years, they live the same year 60 or 70 times over. This is reliving the past in the worst sort of way. In his 1905 book, The Life of Reason, Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana famously summed this up, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The wisest, best course of action is to accept and incorporate your past into who you are and let it inform changes you seek to make in your life. I came across this from the Swiss expatriate, writer and sometime French spy Isabelle Eberhardt, “The farther behind I leave the past, the closer I am to forging my own character.” She correctly grasped the need to release the past in order to change our character in the present.
Having made our peace with it, we leave the past behind, enjoy the present and look hopefully to the future. Since today has been a day for quotes I will close with this from the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 - 1882) who eloquently wrote. “Look not mournfully into the past. It comes not back again. Wisely improve the present. It is thine. Go forth to meet the shadowy future, without fear.”