Have you ever run into someone you once thought you’d have a bright future with, but it didn’t work out? It’s a very disconcerting feeling. You are standing there in your present, getting a glimpse of a life you could have had. You’re peeking down a parallel timeline.
It’s a very bittersweet feeling. It reminds me of that scene in The Way We Were when Barbra Streisand runs into Robert Redford with his new love and says to him, “Your girl is lovely, Hubbell.” That movie always makes me cry. Memories…
But such encounters can also be a stark reality check. On more than one occasion I’ve come away from them thinking, “Whew! I dodged that bullet!” Because it’s blatantly obvious that the person in question is not in a place where I’d want to be. Perhaps their health has deteriorated, or they’re now abusing a substance, or they’ve moved to a hellish location, or they’ve become inexplicably obsessed with collecting traffic cones. No thanks.
If you’ve been pining away for that person, absorbing this new reality into your worldview might take some time. But what a relief to no longer pine. Pining takes a lot of energy. (That, and the sap is hard to get out of your hair.)
I suggest that when confronted with loves past, you take that opportunity to assess, and hopefully appreciate, where you are now. Now is your reality, and hopefully it is your gift. Your life could have unfolded in a multitude of ways, but here you are.
Having done that, resist the urge to tell that person, “This happiness could have been yours, you big dummy.” It might be satisfying, but in the end, it doesn’t do anyone any good. Life has a funny way of going on. (And for all you know, he or she is thinking the same thing.)
Most of all, crossing paths with futures past should make you aware of how many options you have. You can’t control other people, of course, but you have a multitude of opportunities to write your story in the best possible way, even if it isn’t going the way you once predicted that it would.
It happened again the other day. I heard someone use “Communism” and “Fascism” interchangeably, like they are the same exact thing. And that thing, in that uneducated person’s mind, seemed simply to be a synonym for “bad”.
I can’t criticize oversimplification. I tend to use that crutch quite a bit in this blog, and could arguably be accused of it in this very post. But I’d like to think that I shy away from utter ignorance and stupidity. Most of the time, anyway.
So to break it down for you into nice bite sized pieces, I’ll start by saying Communism does not equal Fascism. If you have any doubts on this subject, read up on the Spanish Civil War. (But that can get pretty darned complicated in and of itself.)
A big difference in the two ideologies, in OversimplificationLand, is what they worship. Fascists worship a past that never truly existed. They tend to use slogans like Make America Great Again, implying that America used to be just how they want it to be: A lily white land where everyone of “value” is rich and there’s no crime or conflict, and women stay in their places and everyone is heterosexual.
Communists, on the other hand, don’t worship the past. They claim to worship a future that can never truly exist. Their slogans run along the lines of Workers of the World Unite, implying that there’s some magical yet not-too-far-off place where everyone is going to agree on everything and play fair. They think we’ll all work as hard as we possibly can (“From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”) and that we’ll equally share in the world’s bounty, as if greed and corruption doesn’t exist.
Indeed, Communism stresses equality in all things, in word if not in deed, as if no one is going to keep score and be resentful of those who they feel are found wanting. Fascists have a slightly more uncomfortable problem, because their unspoken truth is that they stress inequality. They don’t want minorities to have equal rights. They don’t want women to have equal power. They certainly don’t want homosexuals to lead equally comfortable lives. That’s what attracts people to Fascism: the idea that they deserve to be better off than others.
Neither ideology appeals to me. Neither one is realistic. Both require corruption and cruelty and lies to survive. They are at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. But we make the mistake of looking at the spectrum as a straight line to our peril. Because they are so similar in their evil intent to control the masses and get what they want and to hell with the common man that they bend that spectrum like a horseshoe. They are at opposite ends, and yet they practically meet up.
(Don’t even get me started on capitalism, here, which is also greedy, corrupt, and attempts to control the masses. Our ideology is complicit, too. What does that do to the shape of this hypothetical spectrum? It boggles the mind. Maybe it’s one big cloverleaf with greed at the intersection.)
Most of us aren’t on any team, and never will be. We won’t even be invited to play. We are cannon fodder. As mentioned in Galaxy Quest, we are the collective redshirt guy a la Star Trek. No one knows his name because he’s only there to die halfway through the episode to prove that s**t just got real. We serve our purposes. It might be fun to get us all riled up every now and again, but in the end, we only have bit parts in this grand power play.
But dammit, Jim, the least we can do is not use Communist and Fascist interchangeably. Yeah, in OversimplificationLand, they can be used as synonyms for bad, as can capitalism, but they’re different kinds of bad. At least get that right.
It always struck me as kind of amusing that many of us say goodbye to the old year and ring in the new by singing a song that we find incomprehensible. I mean, if you took a poll of 100 people, and asked them what Auld Lang Syne means, the most common answer would be, “Beats me.” And yet we sing it, with feeling.
The best translation I’ve found for Auld Lang Syne is “Days Gone By.” And that’s all I need to know, really. It’s a song about nostalgia.
Should we forget the days and people of old? No. We should appreciate them. We should be grateful for our past, because it has made us who we are today. We are the sum total of our experiences, whether they’re good, bad, or ugly.
Hard or easy, cruel or kind, we are here! We’re here, and we can look forward to the future. We build upon the foundations and lessons of days gone by and that allows us to reach higher heights in the days to come.
Life! What a gift! All of it. Even the not-so-good stuff. It got us here. We may have not had control of all of it. It might have been messy sometimes. But how we cope, how we plan, how we dream… that’s entirely up to us.
So let’s take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
It always takes me by surprise when someone overreacts to something. You think you’re just giving someone a light verbal tap on the shoulder, and what you get is an explosion fit to level three city blocks. (Even though I’ve done it myself a time or two, it’s still disconcerting.) Whoa. Where did that come from?
That’s the perfect question to ask. Because being the recipient of an explosion does not necessarily mean that you were the initiator of the detonation. Often, as with explosions in general, you weren’t necessarily the target. You just happened to have the misfortune of being at ground zero at the time of the blast.
It’s quite possible to trigger someone without even intending to. There’s very little you can do to avoid that. You have no idea what went on in someone else’s past. You have no way of knowing if you just happen to come along at the end of a very bad day or a very bad decade.
If you are really evolved, you could try to suss out the reason for the hostility, and perhaps help the person work through it. But the older I get, the less energy I have for such efforts. Life gets shorter by the day.
When someone explodes, what I try to do, with varying levels of success, is imagine the ire blowing past me and dissipating out in the ether somewhere. It’s not aimed at me, and it shouldn’t knock me down. As a friend of mine likes to say, “Not my cow. Not my pasture. Not my bullshit.”
I love small town museums. Every city surely has something to be proud of, and often something to be ashamed of. These museums highlight these things. I’ve never been in one that didn’t teach me something fascinating.
I had been passing the Renton History Museum for months. The building itself intrigued me, with its Art Deco design. A museum is all the more exciting when even the edifice in which it is housed has a story to tell. (It turns out the building, which was built in 1942, used to be a firehouse, and, according to their website, is “the last existing structure in the area built under the Works Progress Administration (WPA).”
Just from one visit, I learned a great deal about the city of Renton. For example, the Duwamish people had been living in this area since the 6th century. Unfortunately they met their first white settler in the form of Henry Tobin in 1852, and a year later the Duwamish Coal Company was formed. Renton was named after William Renton, a coal investor, in 1875. As is typical in this country, the Native Americans didn’t stand a chance by that point.
I was kind of proud to learn, though, that a Cooperative Coal Mine was formed in 1895. This mine was owned and operated by the workers, for the workers. None of this “owed my soul to the company store” stuff for Renton! Power to the people!
I was also thrilled to discover that Mary Wilson, the first woman to vote in Washington State, was from Renton, and that Jimi Hendrix is buried here, at the Greenwood Cemetery. Also, I had no idea how diverse this town is. There are 87 languages spoken in the Renton School District.
The Renton History Museum has both permanent and temporary exhibits, so I’m sure I’ll be visiting again and again. The next exhibit will be about World War I. That should be interesting.
I encourage you to support your small town museum. It is the keeper of the history of the place in which you live. It helps to remind you of who you are as a member of a community, and where you’ve come from. It helps you define your place in the life of your town.
Have you ever looked back at your past and not recognized yourself? As in, “Why the hell did I do that?” “What was I thinking?” “Why did I make that choice?” “How stupid was I?”
That’s perfectly natural. Because, here’s a concept: You are the best version of yourself right this very minute. I guarantee it.
How do I know? Do the math. At no point in your life have you had more life experience than you have right now. With every minute that passes, you are learning and growing as a person. Even the idiotic stuff, even the mistakes, the good, the bad, and the ugly, all combined, have turned you into the person you are right this second.
So of course you’re able to look back at your past with a critical eye. Not only do you have more maturity and knowledge now, but you also have the benefit of hindsight. When you think about it, it’s really rather unfair that you pick on the past you in such a heartless fashion.
Here’s a thought. Maybe give the old you a break. Look back at her or him with some compassion, and maybe thank her (or him) for getting you this far. Because life is cumulative. It’s a process. You’re getting there. Never stop trying. Onward!
I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am that I’m not who I was as a teenager. Sure, I have many things in common with that girl, but frankly I don’t think I’d want to be stuck on an elevator with her. She was so dramatic it exhausts me to think about it. She was also very, very damaged and love-starved and therefore made a lot of really bad choices. Looking back at myself makes me cringe.
But we all have a past, don’t we? Some of us have more regrets than others. On the other hand, some people actually wish they were their young selves again. These people fascinate me. It must be sad to think that it’s all been downhill from there, that in the intervening years no progress has been made and no lessons have been learned. It must take quite a bit of effort to not move forward, even an inch, after years of living.
The other day I was thinking about the boy I went to school with who listed the KKK as one of his clubs in my junior high school yearbook. I didn’t know him well. I can’t imagine we moved in the same circles. Not even a little bit. But I wonder about the man he became.
Does that man look back at that yearbook entry with pride or with shame? What has he done with his life? Does he have kids? Have they seen that yearbook? My mother’s yearbook entry simply says, “A sweet and simple lass was she.” I suspect that’s a much easier legacy to live up to. It certainly doesn’t require justification or explanation.
I thought about trying to track that guy down, but to be honest, I’m afraid of what I might find. It would be wonderful if he came to his senses and dedicated his life to some form of public service, but I’m afraid that, with such a rotten core, the resulting apple might not be particularly healthy. Hate warps you. Then again, people can change. Who knows.
But then, having come from an educational system that allowed someone to list the KKK as one of their clubs in the yearbook means that none of us, from that rural southern town, had the best start. I think many of us turned out well in spite of, not because of, that twisted beginning. Your role models help to set your stage, but only you can star in the play that is your life.
I am who I am partly because the teenage me was who she was. But I’d like to think I’m so much more than that now. I’ve had life experiences. I’ve grown. I’ve evolved. She was just a part of the overall process. Because of that, I’m grateful for her. But I wouldn’t want to be her. I just wish I still had her pert little behind.