My earlier status as a human blimp came up twice this evening. First, Mark got an old photograph of me from when I was twelve or thirteen, and I cringed when I looked at it. I was really overweight. Elsewhere on the net, someone brought over-weight up, and I was reminded of how miserable it was to run it off.
Mark thought I looked cute. So serious, but cute. I don’t think I ever smiled much in photographs from that time, because there wasn’t much to smile about in my life. Besides, I was thirteen, and was convinced that I had seen through it all, and that life was a big joke played exclusively on me.
Okay, I grew out of it, when I did actually manage to meet people who seemed to like me, particularly Maria who protected me like a bear mother protects a wayward cub. 😀 To this day I’m not sure why she persisted with me, even if I was a closed and annoying little brat that trusted nobody back then.
But it, sort of, showed how strange the past can be. It can define you, and cast shadows of you, and yet there’s still the sense of disgust and – dare I say it – sadness that the past was as it was. I mean, there’s nothing I can do about it, is there?
I told you the other day about our visit to the cemetery to see my sister’s grave. This is also looking back at the past, and I remember the feelings I had, and which I always have – that I’m the wrong person to stand there. It should be me below, and Ellie above. Not the other way around.
I think that the past is ever only a subjective lie. By that I mean that you obsess about something, and then that obsession becomes the focus of the moment. Later, when you think back, you remember the obsession, but not the other things around that moment which might show that the past was different from what you think. Right?
This came back to me when I was reading a copy of an original by Hazlitt. I’m reading this faded copy printed on modern computer print-out that gives the essay a different feel than the original hand-crafted heft. There’s something false about the print-out, something odd, and that is such a subjective feeling because the information transmitted is the same regardless of form.
It’s all about my perception of the paper, and it must be all about my perception of the past. I had a miserable couple of years back there; really miserable. But I also had decent parents, who while distant and aloof still yanked me out of that school so fast that my old school uniform is probably still spinning in the wind outside the entrance to it.
The Hazlitt piece I’m reading is called “On the fear of Death” from 1822, which is why I was thinking about the visit to Ellie’s grave. Hazlitt is, of course, the dreamer and the visionary who always was resigned to the fallibility of humans. He wanted a utopia, and felt betrayed that humans could never achieve it because of their nature.
Perhaps the best cure for the fear of death is to reflect that life has a beginning as well as an end. There was a time when we were not: this gives us no concern – why then should it trouble us that a time will come when we shall cease to be? I have no wish to have been alive a hundred years ago, or in the reign of Queen Anne: why should I regret and lay it so much to heart that I shall not be alive a hundred years hence, in the reign of I cannot tell whom?
But is that not true of any age, even the ages where we’ve been alive? Isn’t that true of all pasts and all futures? Or is this just another case of Hazlitt dreaming his big dreams of what he wants, and seeing that with the present humans it’s just not possible?
Isn’t looking back at the past really as meaningless as trying to derive the meaning and purpose of existence before birth, or after death? A corollary to that is then, isn’t looking to the future as meaningless? If we believe Hazlitt, we’re not capable of building the utopia we want. Not for ourselves, and not for society. So, what then is the point of having dreams at all? Is the price for a lack of fear and or regret, our dreams and hopes?