Growing up isn’t the problem: forgetting is
When I’m feeling morose, I like to pick over the bones of my past, looking at mistakes and times when life overfaced me, trying to understand it better so that I can keep it from happening again (or so I tell myself). I enjoy spending time there: things seem nicer, simpler, easier.
Of course part of going away is coming home again, and that can be a difficult process in and of itself when it comes to past and present, meaning as it does the loss of people and relationships and ignorance. When I’m managing to live relatively calmly in the moment, or even planning for the future, I tell myself not to dwell on the past, there’s no changing it. On a good day, I understand the importance of agency in decision making.
This revolving door of attachment to the past is an illusion, though: your story up to this point is not something that you can dip into or shrug off, not a construct discrete from yourself. If you spend too much or too little time thinking about it, you can lose perspective on its effects, but those effects don’t care about perspective.
People like to feel enlightened by saying that all the events in their life led to their current selves, and that they can’t regret any of them because they wouldn’t be who they are if you changed even one. I don’t think I like that point of view any more, and partly that’s because I think it’s missing the point somewhat.
My favourite story in all the world is the story of Lyra Belacqua, called Silvertongue, told by Philip Pullman in His Dark Materials. It’s a brilliant bit of writing, compelling and insightful and just a joy to read, sentence by sentence. It also deals with important themes and ideas about innocence and knowledge, and about the importance of thinking for one’s self and being kind and good and strong and brave.
There’s a lot to be said about the books, and I would urge you to read them, but I brought them up for a reason, and that reason is the shift in perspective that is so coherently presented, the idea that The Fall described in the bible is not an event that occurred in the past, but an allegory for the fall that each of us experiences, when we lose the grace of our childhood innocence in favour of the experience and knowledge and surefootedness of being a grown up.
It’s this transition that I think I’ve found recently, of realising that I’m not a series of events that have occurred and how each has changed me: all those things are still happening to me, pulled up in the folds of the fabric of my life and always a part of it, not just what it has been, but what it still is.
The many worlds hypothesis says that there are as many universes as there are ways things could have gone, all intersecting with our world and unreachable. But each of our lives is like that too, each of the things that have happened all still happening to us at once, reachable by a turn of thought or the smell of a flower. We live our stories continuously, and not just in sequence but in parallel and intermeshed experience. It’s a wonder we manage to get anything done.
This is from the