The Aiken county, South Carolina, motto is “Remembering the Past, Preparing for the Future.”
If you’ve read my blog very long at all, you know how much I love history. Through various stages and at various ages I have immersed myself (like a lot of American youngsters, I suppose) in reading everything I could get my hands on about the Vietnam War, the Second World War, and the Civil War, as well as the founding of the country another historical subjects. Oh, to be sure, I also was infatuated with dinosaurs, cars and electricity for a while, but I always did (and do) come back to history when I want to read about something that really interests me.
What is the allure of the past for us?
Is it thinking about the good old days, held forever in our minds like old sepia photographs of unsmiling relatives standing in front of wooden shacks, hats on their heads and straw between their teeth? Is it putting those relatives on pedestals, reveling in the stories of their five mile treks to school in the driven snow, barefoot, uphill? Is it idealization of times that we somehow think were simpler, more fun, happier?
Do we, maybe, worry that things will never be that good again, never could be that good again?
You know, thinking about the past is not all a bed of roses. It involves reliving losses, sometimes very painful early, traumatic, untimely, horrific, sad losses. We have all lost people, places and things that we have loved with unbridled passion. We have vivid memories of those people, places and things. These memories, especially as involves their loss, may be at once bright and happy and dismal and depressing.
We think fondly about the past, even long for it, pine for it. Some of us even go looking for it, really looking, trying to resurrect it. That is usually no more successful than resurrecting the body of a loved one long gone and buried in the churchyard of our youth. They live on in our minds, but they will never live on earth again.
We can learn from the past, surely we hope we can, but we cannot and should not obsess over it, replay it, rethink it, reengineer it. We cannot change it. We cannot and we should not. Like the Stephen King novel 11/22/63, if we decide to go back in time to change things, we may bite off more than we can chew and bring on consequences that are not foreseen. The past does not like to be changed and will sometimes fight actively against those who try to do so.
We cannot of course, completely see or predict the future either.
Both sides of this coin feel just as slippery to me as I finger it in my pocket, turning it over and over in my hand, between my thumb and fingers, trying to decide which side I’m actually feeling at any one time.
I’m thinking about all this more right now, of course because of several things.
I will have my sixtieth birthday in October. That doesn’t bother me at all, but it is a milestone and it does give one pause to reflect on six decades on the planet and what that means.
My fifth grandchild, a little girl, will be born in December of this year. She will be the first native born Coloradan in our family.
We have an administration running our country who seem to be obsessed with throwbacks, with going back to a largely manufacturing economy, resurrecting the coal industry, isolating us from the rest of the world, and launching big ships and subs, really big ones.
I will have no more birthdays that begin with a three, four, or five. I can only go forward, God willing, to those that begin with six, seven, eight, and if I’m lucky, nine.
My granddaughter will come into a world that is once again struggling to define itself and its relationships. Will she be isolated in the American west against the majesty of the Rockies, or will she be hyperconnected with friends and work associates around the globe?
America cannot go backwards. We cannot provide enough jobs reviving archaic technologies and fuels. We cannot ignore science, technology that can be used to hurt us, or the friends who want to stand with us, not be rebuffed by us.
One of the most technically advanced, forward thinking cybersecurity facilities in the country is being built right now just a few miles down the hill from my home, on the Savannah River. My town remembers the past and all that it can teach us, but it is also moving forward to meet the challenges, threats and opportunities of the fast approaching future.
For the sake of my grandchildren, and all others, we must logically and reasonably anticipate the future, shape it, plan for it, structure it based on hard facts, and create a bright outcome for all of us.
The past calls for remembrance, but the future calls for action.