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This Canvas Called Life
Yesterday’s stroll down memory lane while finally sorting through decades of family photos, stirred up more thoughts about my past than expected. I wonder why we sometimes dwell on a period of our life remembered fondly, and for some, wistful to experience them again. So what’s the value in recalling these younger, impactful times when few responsibilities allowing doors to experiences and experiments?
Why did these dredged-up memories of my twenties stick with me so long after looking at these photos? Was I subconsciously yearning for living like that again, or the fabled time machine fallacy of “Wish I could go back then knowing what I know now?” Connecting to the people and places back then, that’s no longer me (nor them), since our lives since changed into different people and newer places. We should cherish such memories, since these are the layers of paint we applied to the canvas called life throughout our years. Each overlapping layer—our experiences and errors—build up to what our lives are now.
We all probably have that uncle or someone at family get-togethers who tells the same old stories from his past. I remember at one such gathering finally asking him, “So what cool stuff’s happened to you since then?” To which his reply showed how tightly he held and refuse to let go of the past: “Oh, you know, the same-old, same-old.”
Philosopher and author Nassim Taleb wrote about the “narrative fallacy,” that tendency for some to pull unrelated events from the past, spun into stories and inserted into conversations, often unconnected to the conversation. For these people, it’s another chance to brag about one’s feats, salve for their souls they must think need constant reminders of those glory days.
So does that mean telling stories from our past is bad? Out of context, or for the benefit of the teller and not their listeners, probably not the best idea. Sharing and learning from those who’ve walked this Earth longer than we have is a valued tradition. But when it’s all someone can talk about, probably not good to dwell too much on the past, or see them as their “best of times” with later years merely clock-watching until it’s over.
We grow to fit the time we live in and enjoy and appreciate it because of these continually applied layers. Each succeeding layer influences the next, changing in color and tone, through the years. We should never stop creating our life’s artwork, even though we don’t know how majestic or colorful each added layer will be, but we know they will reflect who and what we are.
Vivid memories of my youth simply reveal a life embraced and explored. These people and places back then are ones to cherish, not wish to be back there with them. Each layer on our canvas is ones to be thankful for, and perhaps occasionally enjoy fond memories. Quickly, though, we return to finding the right paints for the wet layer we’re brushing on today. Each day we should be ever grateful to what’s underneath, once again standing at our easels, on yet another day with brush and palette in hands.