At the end of a year, or any given day, we’re apt to focus on things that didn’t turn out the way we’d hoped or planned We make ”resolutions” about what we’ll do differently in the coming year or when we wake up the next morning – wondering what will redeem us from our errors, bring more meaning to our lives.
Many of today’s spiritual or philosophical voices warn: the past is gone and the future unforeseeable; therefore, neither chunk of time deserves our attention. Our most important goal must be to FORGET THE PAST!! LIVE IN THE MOMENT!!
However, in this post, I’m going to cheat a bit and revisit the past — a December 2013 post.– to see if my experiences and views (from the past) have altered more recent .experiences and views
Viktor Frankl, M.D., Ph.D. (1905 – 1997), a holocaust survivor, Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, has been an inspirational guide in “(hu)man’s search for meaning”. In 1946, shortly after being freed from the concentration camps, , in face, he wrote Man’s Search for Meaning. At the time of his death in 1997, the book had sold over 10 million copies, with newer editions describing and discussing logotherapy, his answer to Freud’s psychoanalysis. Logotherapy includes a strong suggestion that, rather than “forgetting or rueing the past,” we are better served by altering the way we store and use memories of our past (BOLD, for emphasis, is mine), saying
“. . . the opportunities to act properly, the potentialities to fulfill a meaning, are affected by the irreversibility of our lives. But also the potentialities alone are so affected. For as soon as we have used an opportunity and actualized a potential meaning, we have done so once and for all. We have rescued it into the past wherein it has been safely delivered and deposited. In the past, nothing is irretrievably lost, but. . . everything is irrevocably stored and treasured. To be sure, people tend to see only the stubble fields of transitoriness but overlook and forget the full granaries of the past into which they have brought the harvest of their lives: the deeds done, the loves loved, and last but not least, the sufferings they have gone through with courage and dignity.”
He continues, talking about how the young view the old based on the former’s progressive view that the elderly represent a dusty past, of little value:
“. . . there is no reason to pity old people. Instead, young people should envy them. It is true that the old have no opportunities, no possibilities in the future. But they have more than that. Instead of possibilities in the future, they have realities in the past — the potentialities they have actualized, the meanings they have fulfilled, the values they have realized — and nothing and nobody can ever remove these assets from the past.
In May 2016, I retired from 24 years of teaching. There is no doubt in my mind that with each day of teaching, memories were stored serving to inform my ensuing days as in the classroom. For a few moments, I may have agonized over a bad day of teaching. But remorse served no purpose. Rather, I constantly learned and evolved — from my own experience as a teacher as well as from what I was taught by my students. The past is a storehouse of wisdom — including knowledge gained and mistakes note — not to be wasted. And, even now that I’m retired, I continue to remember and learn anew. I hope that some of my students can say the same thing
(I’ve read the book many times and every time I read Frankl’s wise words, I’m heartened about life in general, and — selfish me — my life in particular. My faith and belief in the meaning of life is renewed.)