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Only forward…

“Life is backwards.” That is how a recent conversation started. Perhaps life is backwards. Perhaps the universe itself is. But one thing is certain: we plow the uncharted waters of both. We cannot know the beginning or the ending, and as such, perhaps the concept of backwardness is itself strange. However, we still have choice, for motion bestows a frame of reference. Within this frame, we can turn, and we can choose… up or down, left or right, to or fro, and ultimately, where and what we gaze towards. It is our lot as sailors in these seas to have these choices.

There are two contradictory matters at play here. Behind us is always the past: that which makes us, in part or whole, what we are (or so it is said). At the same time, we cannot travel backwards. The inexorable flow of time requires motion, and we are carried, willingly or unwillingly, in some direction. As within any flow, we have a choice of lefts and rights, but unlike the city grid (excepting the devious thoroughfares of Boston), the avenues of time allow us no path to the past. This being the case, it is interesting to logically consider for a moment the available overarching navigational choices. But first, it is necessary to accept a basic axiom. It is a given there will be mistakes and misfortunes, things that we would prefer did not happen, or perhaps would prefer to have happen differently. Mistakes are a necessary side effect of the foggy vision of the future we have access to, and misfortunes are likewise derived from the shared nature of the world, or ultimately, due to the limitations of the mortal coil. It is natural to want to prevent these negative impacts. Faced with the memory that is sorrow, we come to the choice.

The simplest option is to attempt to stop. Of course, stopping itself is impossible, but it is within our purview to stop that which we do: we have the choice of not navigating. Without navigation we float to whatever destination the flow brings us to, while we look inward to the memory of that which no longer is. This is the choice of not making a choice: a choice that leads along a meandering path that ends with the end of our fleeting spark. It is ultimately useless to choose such a path, because space and time care not for our the childish tantrum of our making.

The next simplest option is to take two rights and find that the next right will not lead to the place from which we started, because the world has moved beneath our feet. It is, to some extent, a better choice. At the very least, it is activity rather than withdrawal. However, it is different because it involves choice, and it gives the traveler a view of the past through the lens of time. In seeing the past and attempting to return to it, it is possible to see the past itself not through the fickle lens of memory, but rather the telescope of experience, and perhaps the new view of the past has at least the hope of creating a new course, even if the traveler always travels this course with his back to the rays of the coming dawns.

When I began writing this entry, I thought that perhaps greater action was the answer, but I now find that this is not the case, for one may also choose to always chase the past: an activity without effect. There are those who bemoan a series of mishaps, and thus consider the inability to reach the past a mishap in itself. Unlike the previous lot, they do not come to stop, but instead chase in a circle the shadow of their past selves through their memory, circling forever while drifting aimlessly in the larger scheme of things. While this is choice, the choice is obscured by the veil of memory into a circular search for the past made ever more unattainable by the distortions of memory.

Lastly, there is the option of accepting the dichotomy between memory and past, between choices made and choices possible. It is in fact memory that shapes us, not the transitory and forever unreachable past. One need not look back to be touch with memory. Looking backwards gives insight and introspection, but it cannot change the present except insofar as it can help shape the future. The same is true of choices. Even if it were possible to consider the ramification of a choice, that is not the nature of choice, and thus the possibility itself is fallacious. Choice is layer on choice. An instance of choice rests on the past choices, and supports the future choices. It is no more possible to consider a choice as changeable in isolation than it is to consider a memory or idea in isolation. Ultimately, a change is a choice already past requires a change in the person making the choice, and the future person, built from that choice, can no more understand that change as he or she can exist in all the ramifications of that choices. As such, though it be an interesting thought exercise and fodder for many a story, it is only conceivable, but not achievable even in a thought exercise.

Accepting these dichotomies, a person following this path can shed the past and choose to live without regret. By this I do not mean lack of regret as in remorse, but lack of regret regarding the paths not taken. The process is, in some sense, sporadic. The past often does not slough off continuously. It must build up to where it has sufficient coherence for us to grab onto it, which can allows it to be pulled off and left by the wayside. The act is also not without risk. The past can both weigh down and protect. Without it, the world is capable of inflicting more heavily, both with possibilities and dangers. The moment is also one of irreversible transition as the past is shuttled into the domain of memory alone, and the person changes into a different being, unable to return the the self that was. This new self has its own strengths and shortcomings, and does not necessarily better the previous self. Regardless, this path gives the choice of choice, the possibility of always facing the coming dawn, whether it is with sadness or delight.

Perhaps, being human, it is impossible to choose a path and stick to it religiously. Perhaps all of the modes have different conditions under which they are necessary. And more than likely, the analysis is incomplete and there are many more possibilities. Nonetheless, I am enamored to the idea of making the next choices without regret. Often the path is not for one to choose but to accept. But I hope that when it is for me to choose, there is among the selection this one choice: the choice of going only forward…