We are constantly admonished to live in the moment and decried if we appear to be living in the past. The past is behind us and cannot be changed. The future lies ahead, unpredictable and out of our control.
Thus we have only the present moment to be savored, extolled and used up.
Think not of the past, think not of the future, but only today, say poets and writers, not to mention all manner of lifestyle coaches.
“I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it,” mused Groucho Marx.
“Realize how deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the now the primary focus of your life,” writes Eckhart Tolle in “The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment.”
Indeed. The beauty in the moments of today are all too frequently wasted as we try to clean up or correct the messes and excesses of yesterday, focused on hopes that tomorrow will arrive as a clean slate, a blank canvas on which we will paint only perfect outcomes. But usually not.
I spend many days clearing up what was not done — or done well — the previous day, hoping I will be better prepared for the next day. And thus, I totally miss the magic in the moments I hold in my hands. The present day becomes little more than a stepping-stone between what was and what might be.
We can certainly hope that we learn from today or better yet, learn from yesterday, but do we ever? History books are replete with evidence that societies — by their own actions and decisions — condemn themselves to repeat egregious errors of the past.
The historian and author Barbara Tuchman wrote a book titled “The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam” to address “one of the most compelling paradoxes of history: the recurring pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests,” as the book jacket reads.
The “hallmark” of governmental folly is “the self-destructive act carried out despite the availability of a recognized and feasible alternative.”
Almost 30 years old, the book can even today provide lessons applicable to the cascading wars, eruptions and fracturing of civil societies going on all around us.
I don’t mean to turn gloomy and serious in today’s column or to send us scuttling into the archives for historical proof of the signs of the collapse of great cultures.
Instead, I want to suggest that looking back at our own histories doesn’t have to be just to seek lessons and remedies found in dry and dull chronologies.
Instead, as I found this week, looking back at our own history captured in forgotten photo albums can be a sweet journey re-tracing our steps through some of the happiest days of our lives.
Photo albums — yes, they’re becoming a thing of the past — are records of only the best of times, people and places that we have chosen to be remembered forever. You won’t find tragedies, sickness and losses therein.
For several years now, I’ve stowed a dozen or more photo albums in disorder in a cabinet made more disorderly by stacks of loose photos not yet mounted into albums.
They came spilling out when I opened the doors. Before shoving them back into their dark and forgotten lair, I settled down on the floor to have a look.
Oh, it was almost like Christmas as I poured over the pages of photos and their handwritten notations from years gone by.
There we were, newlyweds 25 years ago with both families gathered for the nuptials in the garden of my little house in Atlanta’s Collier Hills.
There was the picture we made in a photo booth at the Atlanta airport as we waited to board a plane for our first trip to Europe together, then photos as we trod the streets of London and Paris.
There was the groundbreaking for our previous house in the middle of acreage outside of Social Circle and the German Shepherd puppies we brought there to share the beauty of it all.
I found pictures of my parents jostling new grandchildren at Thanksgivings — gosh, they’re almost grown now.
There were photos of impromptu dance parties with friends in the kitchen of this house and photos made out at dinner to celebrate various birthdays.
It had been a cold, dark and drizzly day outside until I took a little jaunt back in time to revisit some of the best of times. Re-living the past turned a cold, drizzly day into a day to be remembered in itself.
Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.