It’s difficult to prevent yesterday from taking over today sometimes.
About a month ago, we took a two-week family vacation. We don’t really do much traveling of late, as the kids aren’t quite old enough for that to be viable again, so this was a treat, a break from the “stay-cations” that we’ve taken over the last three years. Granted, we didn’t go anywhere exotic. Rather, we headed south to see family, and then further south…back to the city in which Karen and I met and in which I lived when I first started this blog…to spend time with old friends whom we hadn’t seen in years.
I suppose that those sorts of trips are especially prone to getting caught up in yesterdays. We made it a point to visit several of our old haunts…we ate at one of our favorite restaurants, walked downtown near some art galleries that we used to frequent, even drove by our old apartment and made a quick supply stop by the grocery store in our old neighborhood. The past comes rushing back when you make those sorts of visits, there’s just no way to avoid that experience. With that rush comes the inevitable “what-if.” What if we hadn’t left? What if we moved back? After all, we still have so many friends there. We know the area. It would be so easy to settle back into that life.
Of course, there are a thousand reasons why that would be difficult at best, unworkable at worst. Even if it were realistic, though, what’s not obvious in the theatrical fog machine in which your memory clouds itself in these moments is the fact that, even were we to do so, we wouldn’t simply reclaim our old life. I remember fondly when Karen and I went to plays, had dinner with friends on weekends, had a life before we had children. As dearly as I love my little girls, I miss that freedom…any parent does. The rhythm of our lives would be different now, the hidden evolutions of the city would take us by surprise and disrupt us in ways we wouldn’t anticipate. These are the sorts of unexpected events that experience teaches. Even with that experience, though, it’s difficult to see past nostalgia’s sleight of hand and recognize reality. Decisions made are decisions made, and a part of one’s life that is lived has been lived.
We can’t move backward. We can only move forward.
Another part of our vacation centered around giving my parents time with the grandkids. They see them far less often now than I would prefer, and I joke that I risk ex-communication if we don’t resolve this somehow, so we spent several days there.
Because our married life has been what it has been, and because we’ve moved as much as we have, I still have things in storage with my parents. For the last few years, with each visit, we intentionally cull through some of these things, and either return with some or throw some out. Often these center around old collectibles that actually aren’t so collectible any more, and other times this event turns into a deeper, and more reflective, trip in the way back machine.
This year, we delved into some memories from my undergrad days. I, like many people of my age, didn’t stay on a single track of study in college. I began my career at my alma-mater as a theatre and communications double-major. I didn’t finish that way, though. I dropped the theatre major with only 6 credit hours left, and, to this day, I’m not sure why.
At the time, I would have claimed burnout, but that’s overly simplistic. Ultimately, I left theatre, but later came running back. The degree remains unfinished, though, a road not taken (I graduated with the communications degree, instead).
On our vacation cleanout this summer, we discovered the drafting tools that I used for scene design. Opening the case was like opening a time capsule: the drafting board, the T-square, the templates for lighting instruments and furniture items…even the compasses and measuring tools. Now, to date myself a bit, I haven’t done any scene design in a long time, but I doubt seriously that designers still break out an architect’s scale to do their work. These tools, though, captured that moment in my life, the moment that I had changed academic pursuits. I returned to theatre as a director and actor, not a designer, and so I hadn’t touched those tools since that semester, over twenty years ago. There have been very few moments in my life of genuine regret, choices that I would make differently had I the opportunity to do so. That academic change, however, is one of them.
While visiting my parents, I fell into an easy routine of the day-to-day. I was up early (I was never a morning person, but it sort of comes with parenthood), and got used to seeing a large truck leaving from across the street, carrying its driver to work every morning. The kids loved my mother’s garden (which goes on seemingly forever), and I was washed over by nostalgic recollections of parts of that back yard during my childhood, which served in my imagination as the interior of my TARDIS, and part of the grounds of the X-Mansion. I remember the unbroken white expanse of that lawn under a fresh snow. Randomly, I remembered a photo of myself in high school, right before graduation, sitting on the living room sofa and opening cards or some such. I was taken with a profound desire to re-live some of those moments.
We can’t move backward, though. We can only move forward.
As our vacation drew to a close, and we were beginning our trip back, we drove past a church in my parent’s town that had one of those garish digital signs out front. The sign read, “Don’t let yesterday take over today.” Were there a meaning to this vacation as I’ve unpacked it over the last few weeks, it’s that. I cannot go backward. That part of my life has been lived, and, I think, lived well. We can only move forward, and I hope…I pray…that, as we do, we provide that incredible foundation to our own children.