For most of my life, I’ve looked at my parents’ foibles with good-natured humour, chalking it up to, “so this is what happens when you get older, huh?” One specific example is my mom’s tendency to refer to things that happened decades ago as if they were current events. It’s been sort of cute, not harmful in the least, but I would still be slightly critical inside myself, thinking, “oh mom, that is so not relevant to our lives anymore!” I figured that, as time goes by, and for people like my parents who have pretty much kept the same routine for maybe the past 50 years, time must just blend into itself and sorta stand still. What once was is what always will be.
But for the first time tonight, I found myself randomly thinking about it in a whole new way. What once was is still relevant today. And not only that, there is a deep abiding value to holding the past and the present as one crazy complex package. Maybe I was thinking about it because words from Ben’s play were still reverberating in my head: his argument against the relevance of Shakespeare that actually makes a compelling case for it. Maybe I was thinking about what the high school coach in the bar tonight said about his daughter, a promising athlete recently diagnosed with the first stages of MS, and how she’s a champion because she’s watched her grandfather dealing with the daily challenges of paralysis all her life. Maybe I was thinking of my own family, and my relative estrangement from my parents for the past ten years, and the effect it has had on my son. I dunno. It was subconscious. But it suddenly hit me that the present needs for the past to be relevant now, like trees need nutritious soil or the atmosphere needs gravity. The past feeds us, grounds us, ties us all together into a common world, rather than letting us all go floating off in our own directions. Some of us try to escape it. But we always end up drifting back to the earth, a little bit starving and a little bit lonely. Memories of our pasts — as scrubbed and polished as they tend to get over time, so that the sharp pointy bad ones get blunted and the happy ones gleam — remind us that we’re not alone. That we have stories to share with others. That we need to pass on our pasts to the future, to tie us all together in one relevant organism on this communal journey through space and time.