Looking Back

in life •  last year


[NOTE: I took the above photo in 1968.
It is of my young son and my wife who was
pushing a stroller with our infant daughter in it
during a stroll in Muir Woods, just north of San Francisco.]

Many and varied are the thoughts one has when looking at pictures of family and friends from times long past. Most of us have pictures of ourselves as children, of our own children, of our parents, and perhaps there are even pictures of friends now dead.

It is interesting to note that seldom, if ever, have these old pictures been taken during sad times. No, we generally take pictures only of our finest moments. Is it any wonder, therefore, that more often than not these old pictures bring on a most melancholy frame of mind? Frequently, these pictures, long forgotten, lie in ambush on the bottom of a drawer, waiting to stop our hearts for a moment when we stumble upon them.

At times we may think it better to not have taken those pictures at all, for they somehow seem to increase the pain of suffering through another day that is now different from the days when they were taken. If we allow ourselves to indulge for even a short moment, it may take weeks to recover from the voyages of memory they send us upon. What, then, are we to do, throw them anyway? I think not. There is a way to handle them, you know.

We must always keep in mind that a picture is no more than a single second of frozen time. Not only are we different people now than when we were when the picture was taken, but we were also different on that ‘picture day’ than the way we remember ourselves to have been. It is easy to perceive the changes that have taken place during the time that elapses between pictures of our own youth and the face we see in the mirror today. We know that we have changed. What causes the nostalgia, however, is the mistaken idea that those other people in the pictures have somehow remained the same as they were on the day the picture was taken. Or ever worse, we are saddened by a desire to have those people return to the way they were on that day.

Why is it, do you suppose, that we sometimes wish to go back in time? The primary cause of this desire is that we have conveniently forgotten the sad hours on either side of the moment in time when we were joyous enough to take a picture. Do you really believe that you have never been as sad as you may find yourself today? And do you really believe that you will never again be as joyous as you were when those pictures were taken? What you believe, and what you constantly think about, will become true for you.

When you look at those old pictures, it is important to not hold on to the memories that they bring to mind. Much joy can come from a picture, but it should be joy, which comes from the knowledge that happiness is as much a possibility in life as is sadness. You do not have to try and think about the sad times on either side of that ‘picture day’; sad times and happy times always balance out. That is the way this world works.

So, if you are having less happy times right now, keep in mind that what you are really doing is saving up to pay for the good times that are not far ahead. The fact that you were modestly happy once before is proof that you are, in fact, capable of being happy. It is a skill you already have. Use these old pictures, therefore, not to produce melancholia, but use them instead as a springboard to bounce you up to new and different happy days. Let go of the old memories as quickly as they enter your mind. Instead, allow the feeling that these pictures evoke, to lift your attitude today.

The time and the people in your old pictures are both gone. Whether living or dead, the people whose images are frozen in time on that little piece of paper, are no longer with us. They are as removed from today as the little child you see in your baby pictures is removed from you. You cannot recreate the past; you can only use it and let it go.

Listen, for a moment, to the words of Jean Dubuffet as he speaks of moving forward through life:

Unless one says goodbye to what one loves, and unless one travels to completely new territories, one can expect merely a long wearing-away of oneself and an eventual extinction.

Looking backward, therefore, is important, but only for one reason: to remind us that there once were happier times, and that if we allow it to happen, there will be happy times yet again.

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After reading this I realize I don’t really think much about the past in terms of happy or sad times, nor do I find myself wanting to go back. I definitely agree though that happy and sad times balance out, though when I’m going through the sad times it doesn’t seem like it.

That’s a great photo, by the way. I’ve always liked scenes like that, with light shining down from the heavens. It really complements what you’ve written here.


I was lucky to get that photo. It was during my time in the Navy, and I was attending a school in San Francisco at the time. So my wife and children came up at the end of the week for a short visit to the Bay Area. We had just arrived at the Muir Woods park when a movie crew set off some smoke bombs to accentuate a scene that they were shooting, and so I took advantage of it myself. That remains one of the favorite pictures that I've taken.

Unless one says goodbye to what one loves, and unless one travels to completely new territories, one can expect merely a long wearing-away of oneself and an eventual extinction.

That is beautifully said. I'm moved by this passage and the entire post. Impermanence is something I've been grappling with lately, and your writing has given me a new perspective. Thank you.


I know what you mean. It wasn't until I got older and saw how quickly my friends and family members had been more or less forgotten a year or so after they died that I realized what a slim grasp we have on BE-ing. Yet, in a way this has helped me to get as much joy (or even a little joy) out of each day. Until organic life is confirmed on some other planet I'm going to do my best to appreciate the amazing fact that I'm even alive . . . even my painful moments attest to the fact of how rare we living creatures are in this univers.

I am pretty much in a "Happy" state all the time, I don't know why, maybe a chemical imbalance. Haha!
I do know, for me, if memory is the gun, the picture is the trigger.
Great article, my friend. I really found it interesting!
...upvoted followed(finally) resteemed


It is rare to come across someone like you, but whenever I am around people who seem pleasantly happy with life it elevates my own mood considerably. So Thank You!

It is a beautiful photo of a beautiful moment in your entirely beautiful life. We are so lucky to have made it this far, and to have the ability to briefly relive these moments.

i hope you follow or vote me..