The Past Is Meant to be A Distant Thing.


I remember, a couple of years ago, being greatly irritated by a comment made by a then-fellow film student. The topic under discussion was something about personal narrative and filmmaking - I forget the precise details - and somebody stated, without a hint of irony "Wow, I feel so removed from my own past".

The urge to jump up and hurl a film-can at this person, yelling, "Of course you do! That's the bloody nature of that beast!" was nigh overwhelming and, incidentally, I'm proud of the fact that I didn't give in to it. I guess I'm mellowing in my old age.

But since that incident, that statement comes back to me. People are very preoccupied with the past and a need to feel connected to it, particularly Americans, I've noticed. Of course, the American obsession with genealogy is usually dismissed by disinterested others with a patronizing "Well, of course they're so interested in their past, they have so little of it to claim", but that's just a meaningless moment of Yank-baiting.

The fact remains, though, that many people want to feel a strong connection to their past - usually via genealogy or local history. Why? A personal connection to history can't teach a person anything that they couldn't learn by reading general history. I've certainly been forced to think a lot more about what it means to be English after reading of the circumstances of the Falklands war, compared to the minimally thought-provoking fact that my family has a hereditary coat of arms.

It's easy to look up dusty ancestors and feel a personal connection to them, but what of a connection to larger events? Unless you're one of the few that has a family that has had the fortune (or misfortune) to tangle in world-shaking events every decade or so, it's an impossible thing to strive for. To make a connection to larger events when one lacks a genealogical/personal reason is more daunting and more threatening, surely - but also more provocative. If a person is lucky, they can establish both - but so few of us are fortunate to have a gloriously intriguing family tree. 'Family shrub' is a more accurate term.

However, I'm wandering away from my original point - no great surprise to either of my regular readers. There is nothing wrong with cherishing the past, or even taking a bit of pride in one's ancestors, but it is going too far to take the past to your bosom and rub it to a nubbin with your constant devotion. The past is over, it's done with and the best thing to do with it is learn from it and get on with the present.

Constantly looking back causes one to stumble over the road ahead - and give one a fierce crick in the neck, to boot. It also makes for too many regrets, too many 'if-onlys' and too many 'what-ifs'. All that makes for very boring conversation and a melancholy turn of mind. I know, I've been there, and it takes a constant effort to keep one's eyes off the past. It's a nice, secure place where things rarely change - but it's a dam' lonely place to be.

Lighten up, people and reach for the future - at least that's something you can grab a hold of, rather than admire from afar.


You are not at the top of the food chain - The Maternal Jackal.