Sometimes it’s about what must be done today. Sometimes it’s an event or a goal several days or months or years in the future. And more and more, it seems, it’s memories from the past.
It’s like my mind is controlling one of those progress bars your computer displays when carrying out some task. You know, the one that originally is empty and then gradually fills by a solid stream emanating from the left end.
I figure each of us has a bar. The unfilled part represents the time we spend thinking about the present and the future. The solid part indicates our concentration on the past.
At birth the bar is completely empty. Only the present and immediate future matter: Food, sleep, diaper change.
Slowly memories are created: Family, friends, birthday parties, school, first date, first kiss. They build and become an autobiography and we often consult those recollections. And when we do, the bar inches forward.
As we age through retirement, health issues, and approaching death, the bar tends to move because we often dwell on memories rather than the short and scary future.
Eventually, at death, the bar is filled.
But the pace of advancement is not the same for everybody.
For some, an early event, like participating in World War II, becomes the focus for a sad life that seems to have no meaning beyond that time. The bar fills quickly and remains almost full from early on.
For others, the past is the past and not worth a lot of time. There was the man in his late 80s still running the company he founded who recently visited my home to give an estimate for an electrical upgrade. His bar is perhaps only half full.
I think there’s a lesson here. If you dwell on the past, there can’t be much joy in the present. If you dwell on the future, the present takes on meaning and excitement.
I often think—advancing my bar because I do so—it sure would be nice if I could turn time back. To be 20 again. Or 40. Or even 60. To get out of a chair with ease. To have body parts that don’t constantly ache. But the past wasn’t perfect and to revisit it I would have to again deal with all the stupid things I’ve done. All the insecurities involving major decisions. All the mistakes I made as a parent. All the people I’ve hurt. All the health problems I’ve survived. All the losses I’ve endured. No fair remembering only the good stuff.
Really, though, such speculation is foolish, isn’t it? One can’t go back. The bar never slides to the left. And it’s probably a good thing. Life is something that’s provided to us to deal with as it unfolds. Some people are given better cards. Some are relegated to a horrible time on this earth. I don’t know why that is. It seems unfair.
But no matter how the deck is dealt, the wonders of life are our experiences as we move forward. How we learn. How we become better or worse. How we make the best of what we have. How we can approach the end of our lives and, while looking back, figure out how to look forward. How to advance that bar as slowly as possible.
Life is meant to be lived. Once! The joys and the despairs. While reliving the joys might be pleasant, reliving the despairs would not.
It seems to me the best one can do as one ages is to remember the good times with pleasure, to learn from the bad, and to use it all to make of the current situation the best that you can.
In other words, think about and be excited about what’s coming. Keep that bar from advancing any more than necessary. Concentrate on the future—and decide to be happy.
After all, some positive people always have a significant empty portion in their bars as long as they live.