“It is sadder to find the past again and find it inadequate to the present than it is to have it elude you and remain forever a harmonious conception of memory.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Independence day weekend has always been filled with a great deal of nostalgia. Not only does it mark both my dad’s and grandma’s birthdays, but it was a time spend hanging out at the lake with many family members not often present. However, as time has passed, much of the magic seems to have been lost. While there is still plenty of joy gathered from a day at the lake, the anticipation and excitement so prevalent in one’s youth is dampened by the other elements that become integral parts of one’s existence as we grow older. Which begs the question: once we move on to our next big adventure can we ever truly come back?
Rarely do the changes in our lives announce themselves dramatically and all at once. Typically, little by little, step by step, we make the changes needed to grow as human beings. We slowly say goodbye to the people who’s lives take them down a path separate from ours, while gradually inviting a new cast of friends and family in to our world. We move from a time of learning to a time of teaching and back again without ever realizing it. Even when there are drastic moves, we slowly ease ourselves into them by clinging to remnants of our past.
However, there are traditions and people who remain in our life despite the changes made. Be it the friend from high school we stay in contact with despite our changing priorities or the family members we continue to share traditions with, we never quite completely walk away. Yet even these constants must evolve to survive. The friendship must learn to adapt to less time and further distances. The family will inevitably grow as each member continues to enter new social circles. Those failing to adapt to the new realities will eventually cease to be.
Despite the difficulties associated with maintaining our past, we continue to seek solace in the familiar. We look to these traditions and individuals as the last link to our past. Hoping that by continuing to maintain these ties we will somehow capture the magic of a “simpler time.” What we fail to realize is it is not the situations and people that shape our past experiences but our perception of the world. A view, that changes as we continually move forward to our next stage of development.
Returning to the original question, is it ever possible to truly return to the past? While the people and traditions may remain in our life our changing perceptions make it difficult if not impossible to do so. However, this does not have to be a bad thing. A key component to human survival is our ability to adapt to changing circumstances. If we continue to cling to a past no longer in line with our new perceptions we stifle our ability to reach our full potential. John F. Kennedy probably said it best, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.”