Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Quest for Years Ago

Google Earth offers us a chance at time travel. Yes, it really only means you can hop back five years or so and vaporize that annoying neighbor off your street. Or become the 178th person to enjoy the Central North Dakota Steam Thresher's Reunion in October 1968, courtesy of YouTube. Or see the Eiffel Tower at night from fifty unchanging years ago and two hundred different angles.

But what this information gifts in years, it steals in precious time. The present time. In the thirty minutes it takes to zero in on an exact location the year something monumental happened, Google Earth users encounter the real tragedy of time travel: moments of personal history made in the here, in the now, lost forever.

Have you ever known someone whose every waking thought is trapped in the past? People who've wronged them. Times of joy and happiness they'll never see again. Revisiting paths not taken and rehashing life's choices? Though it's common in those nearing life's end, it's painful to witness such reflection and the complete absence of the moment. It is the heartbreak of Alzheimer's, the thief of regret, the bitter note of what-if that haunts us all.

On my trip back home to Denver a few weeks ago, I had planned to drive by my childhood home. Twenty years had passed since I'd seen it, and I'd heard how much it had changed. Painted brick, mature trees, questionable upkeep. But as I was on the interstate, nearing exits I'd taken a thousand times, past the iconic restaurant I worked at in high school, near the McDonald's I'd swung my Mary Janes under the table before they could reach the floor, I didn't exit. So much had changed. The landscape of my childhood had become cluttered with progress and not being able to breathe became more about how many years I'd lost than the altitude. Since I left at 18, my life has been gypsy, never staying in one town more than a handful of years. My childhood was the only place my heart knows as home. I didn't want the sadness-the downside of change-to stain its perfection in my mind. It might have given me the profound sense of time I'm always seeking, but looking at it now would have stolen so much more.

Today, friends, I give you a gift. Not of slick-covered paperbacks or the coolest time travel films in cinema, but of the present. No links to Google Earth's historical imagery here. In the time you might have entertained a click, an irresistible link to check out your own real estate in your own past, engage in the present. Hug a loved one nearby and offer up dedicated time to listen. Study the emerging buds in the oak tree outside your window. Soak up everything that will become history in the next instant. Find life's perfection around you.

"You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present." ~Jan Glidewell

What will you do today to honor the present?


laughingwolf said...

great thoughts, lam... i lost my mom to altzheimer's, sis to gall bladder cancer, and dad to congestive heart failure... a brother was stillborn... i miss them all, but embrace having chatted with my older daughter this morning, who's convocation with her master's degree is next month


Pamela Cayne said...

The hubs and I talked about the year to come rather than the year that was, so we must have been on the same wavelength.

And I've been there, wanting to see past homes, but having been disappointed enough that I stopped looking. Sometimes the memories are just sweeter.

the walking man said...

What will you do today to honor the present?

Not die. It is enough for now.

Charles Gramlich said...

Great ending quote. Very true.

Jen FitzGerald said...

Great thoughts, L.A. Whenever I visit my parents, who still live in the area of which I have the most memories, I grieve for the era of what was that no longer is. An era of my children's childhood and a life I loved but was wrested from almost ten years ago.

But I have come a long way and know that what I have gained in the last ten years is so precious.

the walking man said...

I was successful in yesterdays quest...I shall now attempt to repeat it again today.

Caryn Caldwell said...

I think there's something to be said for balance. Yes, we must live in the present and plan for the future, but it's good to remember the past if only so that we can use the lessons in order to inform what we do. I, too, have met people who seem to live in the past, idealizing it when you know that it wasn't as amazing as they seem to remember. It's so easy to become nostalgic, to forget whatever troubles we had at the time.

Vesper said...

I find that one can never really go back to a place. There are places better kept only in sweet memory. Better to look at the future.

A very touching post, L.A..

Barbara Martin said...

Interesting post. I have looked up on Mapquest old addresses at which I lived, even ones from my childhood; and discovered two evergreen trees my mother had planted in one front yard are now GONE. Replaced with grass. Sigh.