Often times we stand in the here and now and we believe that we understand what brought us to this point. We take for granted certain things about ourselves and our world. We have seen the past and we look forward to the future. In reality, we have personally experienced very little in our own lives and we rely heavily on the stories of others to tell us about the things we will never see.
All the things we will never experience for ourselves, and all the times we have never been a part of, must be learned again. These unseen events and people are nothing more than pages in a book, or words leaving someone’s lips. The story is recorded, either physically or mentally, and then passed down to us, but we can never truly know what it was like to stand in the middle of that moment and be moved by it.
Here are just a very few of the many things that I will never be able to see, but nonetheless shape me and the world I live in. The moment has passed and it will never come again. Though I may understand that this past does exist, in essence, I am completely ignorant to the truth that can only be fully known by someone who was there or who lived in a world much younger than the one I currently occupy.
I’ll never stand under the stars and look up at the moon and wonder what it is made of or how far away the stars are. People just like me have been there and stood under the stars looking back at the rest of us. They drove around, jumped up and down, and hit golfballs across the face of a dead lump of rock. Mystery solved, no more imagination necessary.
I’ll never walk down a hallway and see separate bathrooms for “Whites” and “Blacks.” I will never truly grasp what it was like to experience this void of separation that ran so deep for so long. My young life views this culture as it is now and the truth that it wasn’t always this way can sometimes seem a little absurd.
I’ll never stand in the crowd as John, Paul, George, and Ringo come out on stage and send the waiting crowd into a frenzy. As strange as it may seem, the simple gathering of these four guys playing music didn’t just change the lives of a few fanatical teenage girls. It did change things in a noticeable way and sent the world culture in a new direction.
I’ll never see my parents as teenagers falling in love for the first time. I’ve heard stories about their younger selves , playing drums and singing Janis Joplin songs, but it seems like it must be so long ago. I wonder if it seems like that far in the past to them? As I grow older will my memories get further apart, and harder to reach, or just more compressed so that the trip further into the past takes the same amount of time?
I’ll never come to the crest of a hill, look out across the other side and see land that is not already owned by somebody else. No matter how far you go you are never far from everyone else. When you get there you may find a soda can or some dirty socks under a shrub. Gone are the days when there was a wilderness to be “tamed,” when you could strike out towards the country to start anew.
I’ll never stand in front of a Washington D.C. monument and hear a speech about dreams. Will there ever be a moment again when someone speaks so passionately and effectively about something that is so important to them? Or have we become so jaded and cynical of everyone and everything that when they speak we ask ourselves what is their real agenda, or what’s in it for them?
I’ll never stand on the beach and stare into the vast expanse of ocean and wonder what is on the other side. Everyone knows what is there and we all have seen the pictures to prove it. There are other people very much like us over there and they are standing on their own beach. No monsters, no demons, no edge to fall off of.
Absolutely everything we learn about the past is told to us by someone else. The separation between what we know and what we have experienced is vast indeed. We do not inherently know that the Earth revolves around the Sun, we have never seen this happen. Most of us have never actually witnessed penguins diving off the Antarctic shelf or felt the heat radiating from the mouth of an active volcano. Yet, we take for granted that these things happen.
We do not even know everything about our own past. We must be told about the times we spent before we can remember. We are nothing without a past even though it is a past we largely have no personal knowledge of. I will soon become the bearer of the past for others, but how much do I really know?