I was listening to NPR the other day, and I heard a story that made me cringe. Not for the human rights implications, or the civil rights being infringed, or even because someone, somewhere, was being unacceptably stupid. No, I cringed because it showcased a way of thinking, a life philosophy if you will, that just...makes me ill.
Oh, fair warning: philosophy ahead.
Anywho, the story centered around an op-ed piece that I apparently can't find to save my life. Roll with me, this isn't very important to the core of my discussion, more of a bit of background. The piece, near as I can gather, was about the way that life is a trajectory rather than a line of discrete moments, and how any given trajectory will have a peak.
That's where we come to the thesis of this little ramble. The idea that life can hit a high point, that the best years can be behind you. Over and over throughout the show, the host asked listeners to call in, email, tweet, or Facebook their opinions on their own lives: best years to come, or already gone. And over and over, people kept saying "yeah, the best years of my life are totally behind me." A few did say "ahead" but those were people who had concrete reasons like youth, or addiction recovery, or in one case "still in the midst of my life's work."
That's...really, people? Really?
Let me let you in on something that has defined my life in many ways: I have a horrible memory. It takes an act of congress and a signed declaration from Zeus to allow me to remember much of my childhood in detail. And it's given me a weird view of time. Take today for instance: today, I woke up and went to work, grabbed my check, cashed it, paid a bill, texted a few people, and came home to blog.
From a linear perspective, that's a fairly nice little line. For me, those things all happened a moment ago. A moment ago, I was checking people out at my register. A moment ago, I was in my car, hearing a story that inspired this blog. My memory is so fragmented that everything that happened either just happened or happened in a blur of "the past." Without calendars and other people to tell me how much time has passed, or clear markers to look back on (like syllabi, or dated bills, etc,.) I have no sense of how long things have taken.
For me, I've just met my husband, and I've been with him five years. I just started college, and I'm finished with an associates and starting a bachelors. What's the point here? My best years can never be behind me, because "behind" is just a now that I can't quite reach or see clearly. And (here's the big part) "ahead" is also a now that I can't quite reach or see clearly.
And no matter what your memory is like, or what your foresight is like, that's true of all of us. We stand in a unique spot, a point that we call now, but we can't experience that clearly either. It moves too fast. Now is literally an infinitely small point that defines the lens through which we view the past and the future. Every second that you live and breathe, the future becomes the past. You take actions and make decision to influence the former based on what you see in the latter, but those action and those decisions reverberate up and down the line. They say you can't change the past, but you create the past and the future at the same time.
With every decision, with every action, you change who you are. You change who you were, because the moment you make a decision, you've moved into a new future and it was the past you who made that choice, took that leap. Therefore "who you were" is a person who chose to be "who you are/will be."
To say that all your contributions, all your moments of greatness are behind you? That's a moment where you close your eyes and stop looking forward. Where you chose to freeze all the time you could have left, to stand on that one point in time and let the rest of the tape spool past you, static and unchanging, just reacting to things passively.
That's...sad. To just decide that there's no more potential, nothing more to be or do. To say, "I've given all I have of worth, I've done all the important things I will ever do, and now I'm going to settle down and wait for the end."
People said, today, on the radio, that they've contributed everything, that they're going to retire. That the best years are behind them because they've finished their jobs, they've raised their kids, they've done their "one great thing." That's freaking ridiculous.
It's a line of thinking I can't understand. The defining moment, the one great thing? That's usually a moment when the universe or the lives of those around you turned on your actions. When you were a fulcrum, or a lever, or duct tape. When you had a wider influence.
But that's a strange way to view the world. The only time you're important is when you have worth and value in the eyes and lives of others?
Every moment, every now, that you are breathing and moving forward...your world, your universe is in flux. Your time, your past and future revolve, quite literally, around you. Reading, learning, growing, hell...watching TV and having eggs, toast, and bacon every morning.
The point is, if the past is a moment just behind you, the future is a moment just ahead, and now is the moment where you shape who you were and will be, then your best years can never be behind you. The "peak"? The "high point"? That's just a way of describing a moment when everything came together and something beautiful happened.
Life's "trajectory" is a line that rises and falls, with hills and valleys marking the points and moments when beautiful and awful things happen and quiet planes when things are just humming along. Though you shape forward and backward as you zip along the line, you move forward. The past is always out of reach, the future is always just a moment away.
The best is always to come, because it's not about what you've done or will do. It's about the moment between the two, the infinitesimal second we inhabit, where we can see the past and shape the future. It's about living the best life you can so the shape of your past creates a future to look forward to.
Even if that future involves nothing more than an armchair, a remote, and reruns of your favorite shows.
And now, the obligatory cuteness.