Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Past: They say that one can’t or shouldn’t go back…

First of all, who are these famous “they”? And why would we bother to believe anything they say?  Sometimes a return to the past can be not only wonderful but salutary.

But before I get into the more philosophical aspects of that title, there are the more mundane. Although 99% of the time I am ever so grateful for the freeway bypass of the city of Thonon in France, there is that 1%. This time on my way to the mountains I decided that I really did need to see the beautifully flowered roundabouts and lakefront that were on my path for so many years. Having no appointments, nor timing to be respected, I decided to not take the bypass but to wander. The floral displays were every bit as lovely as I remembered, but I had forgotten the fountains – a deviation well worth the extra minutes.

The roundabout upon entering Thonon

Fountains on the lake front of Thonon

Part of the roundabout leaving Thonon

middle band in Evian

Flower pot in front of City Hall in Evian

That in turn reminds me of many favorite roads, some of which I may never have the pleasure of driving again, but that are there in my memory should I need them.

And so it is with the past: perhaps we can’t return to that exact minute, the exact circumstances, the good, bad, indifferent or wonderful, but we can’t simply ignore that they ever existed either nor that they are part and parcel of what we have become.

I treasure a childhood friendship more today than I did then; I wouldn’t give up those from over 40 years ago, nor those from 30 years ago, nor those more recent. Each new friendship adds a layer to my life – building upon those solid foundations laid by others.

Going down an old path doesn’t mean trying to repeat that past, it simply means seeing something distant again – seeing it in a different way, perhaps indifferently, but just as likely the experience can be even better than the first time.

One road in particular illustrates my thoughts: Highway 1 in California.
I surely first experienced this with my parents as I know we did visit relatives who spent their summers at Hearst Castle, but my memories are vague and I probably found it tiresome at the time.  The next time I drove this would have been with my husband and older son – at least a short bit of it – there too what remains thirty years later – is the sensation I had of wanting to simply let the car float off into the clouds at one of the many turns winding along the Pacific Ocean.  Then there was the time I drove it alone, traveling in between my two sisters – a beautiful road, but simply one joining my family members. More recent visits hold stronger memories:
-       driving it with my now deceased little sister;
-       the trip when we returned from Northern California together with my older son and stopped at many favorite places along the way
-       the trip with a girlfriend from Switzerland where I got lost, but we ended up discovering what became one of my favorite hotels along the route.
-       the trip up with my sister and sister-in-law after the death of the other sister (truly a pilgrimage that trip)
-       the trip with my younger son and his then girlfriend before one of my nephew’s wedding

I have many favorite places from the past to which I would gladly return, but each year I add new ones so who knows how many I will be able to repeat; how many will remain in the past and how many will become a new experience each time.

It is the same with people: we change, they change, but true friends simply add better layers and experiences – the past is with us always, may we incorporate it into our lives in the best manner possible. May the future be enriched by our past, all the while enjoying the present to the fullest.

So I’m off for a hike in some of my favorite mountains.

La Creusaz

Old photo of Dents de Morcles - May 2016

Looking towards the Mont Blanc from La Creusaz

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