If the clues to my future and the keys to understanding myself are in my past, then I need to examine them.
In primary school, we walked from the classroom to the playground in lines. Apparently kids aren’t supposed to run out to play.
On the playground, we used to play a massive game of bulldog. The two ends of the playground were the safe zones and you had to make it to the other end without being tagged. If you were tagged, you joined the team who were “it”.
Woe betide anyone who got caught in the rampage.
I remember being in the headmasters corridor, standing, facing the wall, catching the other kid’s eyes and trying not to laugh.
In secondary school, I got chucked out of science class for sneezing too loudly. I was kicked out from my first few drama lessons for being disruptive.
Maths was the first time I’d hear someone explain why just knowing the answer wasn’t enough. The more important thing was to know why the answer was the answer and how you got there.
As I recall these memories, more come flooding into my mind. Some bad, most good, many hilarious, some heartbreaking.
There’s just too many vivid episodes to list. But when you do take the time to think about your past, about your experiences, where you’ve been, who you’ve met, you realise something. Our pasts are so vibrant, so rich, so full of colour, so packed with variety.
Our lives are like that too. But as we grow, we forget. We forget to appreciate life’s richness. We stop seeing it’s magnificence. We cease to notice it’s colour.
Every person has this treasure trove of experience. You and I have a vast collection of experiences and thoughts about our experiences, but we recall such a small percentage of them.
If it weren’t so sad, it would be laughable.
We recognise that we cannot dwell on dreams and hopes for the future. They don’t really exist. They’re just vapour. And by the same reasoning we neglect reveries of the past. It’s done. It’s behind us. What does it matter?
But the past, unlike the future, is real, permanent. It cannot be altered. When we neglect it, we neglect one of our most invaluable assets: our own human experience.
From it we can learn about ourselves, about the patterns in our lives, about the full spectrum of human existence. And about the value inherent in every moment.
When you realise how little examined your own past is, you become painfully aware of how little you actually know about those people you supposedly call friends and family.
We examine just a fraction of our own past, and we learn about an even smaller sliver of the lives of the people we care about.
So go out of your way to learn about them.
Take them to dinner and ask them about their childhood, their parents, their friends, their time at school, their struggles, their successes, their jobs, their relationships. Talk to them about their lives.
Because before you know it, they’ll be gone. They’ll have drifted out of your life. Or they’ll be dead. And when that happens, not only have you missed the chance to listen to their story, they’ve been denied an opportunity to tell it.
And isn’t that what we do? We tell stories and we learn from them.