“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” – George Santayana
When I was a teenager learning to drive a car, I attended driving lessons. The instructor talked about the importance of leaving oneself an out. That is, time and space to respond safely to both the expected and the unexpected along the way. He spoke about leaving at least a car length (more when traveling at higher speeds) between one’s car and the car ahead. He also taught about being aware of what is in front of oneself as well as using the side and rearview mirrors. Then, of course, he spoke of the times, when looking back over the shoulder, is necessary.
It seems like navigating the road of life is very similar; best done with a broad spectrum, using both central vision and peripheral vision…And, sometimes, needing to turn around, and look back.
At times looking back and remembering the past can bring a smile to one’s face as people, places, events and things experienced along the way come to mind. However, sometimes looking back can be painful. Either way, recalling yesterdays can be immensely helpful in moving forward in a positive way.
While some may say that history is just that, history, and that it should be left in the past, history can play such an important part in guiding one through the present and into a brighter future. With careful consideration and prayerful reflection, the past can illuminate and open up the road ahead.
“History is a vast early warning system.” – Norman Cousins
History is not only important and essential to reflect on so that I do not repeat past mistakes, but also in keeping perspective and holding onto the truths that I have learned, the truth of who I am, and how I desire and strive to be as I navigate the world. While I certainly do not want to stay, or live, in the past, recalling it and, if necessary, working to be at peace with it is essential to growth and authenticity. I cannot forge ahead with a sense of freedom, peace and openness to being led by the Spirit, if I avoid or recoil from the past and any loose ends that it may hold.
We all have loose ends, things that get in the way or cause us to speak or act in ways that are less than a genuine reflection of who we really are at the core of our being. When these loose ends pop up here or there, how do I respond? Do I push them back down, trying to squash them into the hole from which they sprang? Or, do I spend time with them? Do I try to look more closely and work through them so that their potential for wreaking havoc or causing unrest or anxiety becomes less and less each time they arrive, eventually becoming so minute that it is as if they have faded away or vanished completely? In this way, holding and looking back at the past can lead to it becoming a salve or a balm; helping to heal old wounds so that I do not become stuck along the path that I am currently on in the journey of life.
In addition, history often helps to give greater meaning to our lives. It helps us to know who we are and from where we have come. The past can also help us to appreciate more fully the present as well as to know what to hold on to and of what to let go. Knowing where I come from, what and why I do the things that I do and celebrate the occasions that I celebrate, is important. If I do not recall the history of these things or events every so often, over time, they will lose at least some of their meaning, and eventually they may become lost entirely. For some things that may be a good thing, but for others, it may not, especially if they have anything to do with core values and beliefs that create a sense of peace and unity within myself and flowing out into my daily interactions.
You see, when we lose touch with history, avoid it, or allow it to be erased or re-written, we risk losing touch with Truth, both our own and that of humanity. We also risk drifting away from fully becoming all that we were created to be and all, that deep down, we truly desire to be. When we are focused solely on what lies ahead, we are as George Santayana said, “doomed.”
“Prayer is listening to the voice of the One who calls you the beloved. It is to constantly go back to the Truth of who we are and claim it for ourselves. I’m not what I do. I’m not what people say about me. I’m not what I have. My life is not rooted in the world, the things the world gives me. My life is rooted in the truth of my spiritual identity. Whatever we do — we have to go back regularly to that place of core identity.” – Henri Nouwen