The past is past

Lubna Abdel-Aziz
Tuesday 14 Dec 2021

The dream of a return to normal life after Covid-19 may be just that — a dream.

Undoubtedly, most of us harbour a wish, a hope, a desire that life will be back again to what it used to be.

The sooner we realise that it shall not, the better for our psyche.

Consciously, unconsciously, or subconsciously, the winds of change are always blowing.

However, we have already changed drastically during the past two years. We do not even look the same. With our masks, we hardly recognise each other.

A hidden fear has added tiny lines to our faces and souls. Do we shudder each time we hear of a life lost?

While we long for normalcy, it has eluded us that we find it quite normal now to keep our distance, constantly wash our hands, no hugging, no kissing, no shaking hands either. We follow certain rules and restrictions out of fear. How frail and vulnerable man is.

Change is inevitable, but in this case it has been harshly expedited by the sudden onslaught of an unexpected, unwanted imposter, wearing an imperial crown to affirm its omnipotence. It has done that and more, leaving the human population in a state of crisis, and its scientists ineffectual and unable to assess when or whether it will end.

We dwell on the past out of necessity. We need our memories. Researchers have shown that remembering your past is fundamental to being human. Memories give us our identity, continuity, guidance and allow us to reflect on what we have gained from our experiences. When feeling sad, memories can improve our mood, lift our spirit and put a smile on our faces. Those personal memories should fundamentally be a positive contribution of our past.

When we stress negative personal memories, dwelling on an unpleasant past experiences, they play an entirely different role.

An excessive repetition of cheerlessness cannot generate helpful solutions to our hapless condition. In effect, it can create multiple problems such as ill health, depression, anxiety and stress.

How often we forget that we cannot bring back the past, alter it, revise it or modify it. We must differentiate between recalling personal memories of people, places or events, evoked by a picture a song or an occasion. Recollecting unpleasant struggles with our past leaves us bitter and depleted.

According to Dr Eckert Tolle, we are more comfortable with the known and fear the unknown. In disturbed relationships, we will often choose suffering over an uncertain future.

Focusing too much on the past can keep us stuck there. Dr Rebekah Bell refers to it as “playing the if-only game” with no winners. It is a loser’s game causing discontent. We convince ourselves things would have been different “if only”, yet we do not know that. It is just a fancy.

It is far more fruitful to transform our present.

What is the past? It is a set of events that occurred before a given point in time. It is contrasted and defined by the present and the future.

The concept is derived from the linear fashion in which human observers experience time and is accessed through memory or recollection.

Human beings have recorded the past since the advent of written languages. And what are we without our past?

It has been the subject of study in such fields as history, archaeology, anthropology, cosmology, etymology, palaeontology and on and on, preserving our cultural heritage.

The legacy of our ancestors is both tangible and intangible. Among the tangibles are the pyramids, magnificent cathedrals, amazing monuments, literature, art and artefacts. The intangibles are traditions, folklore, language, knowledge and a host of cultural, national treasures.

Preserving them is our duty, our identity, for future generations. None can diminish the role that the past has played in forming who we are.

However, on a personal level we cannot drown ourselves in a river of memories. We must be mindful of the present before we are dragged into a state of depression. Neither are we to live in the future, worrying about what might happen, and it never does.

There are infinite reasons as to why we choose to dwell on the past. Psychologists report that it is mostly trouble in the past or in the present. By repeating troublesome events over and over we remain mentally, spiritually and emotionally fixated on them.

Mastering them is a choice.

Yes, we choose. Some choose to be embittered by past experiences. Some others choose to move on with their lives. Where do you belong?

Does dwelling on the past produce any results? Does it improve the quality of your life? Does telling the same story over and over change it?

Forget it. The present has more potential. The future is where our goals lie.

Some financial institutions forecast a rosy future. A full economic global recovery and a return to normal conditions. We view that with some scepticism.

Change is constant and would occur with or without Covid.

Undoubtedly, the pandemic has negatively affected us. It has destroyed many aspects of our normal lives.

Will the shop at the corner owned by Papa and Mama ever open again? No, the past will never return, regardless of the financial reports.

Is there a bright side? There must be.

Remember the saying: “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift.”

Enjoy today.

“There is nothing permanent except change.”

Heraclitus (c 560-480 BC)

*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 December, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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