Just last week I was sitting in my garden watching this year’s batch of cabbage moths checking out my herbaceous borders. They finally settled for the nasturtiums growing around the herb garden and while I left them to their own devices I got to thinking about the past. It seems that after fifty, or in my case sixty, years you think about the past more and more. I'm sure this is brought about by the sure and certain knowledge that you have less distance to go in life than you've already travelled; in racing parlance you're settling down in the straight for the run to the judge. What's more, I suspect we will be judged if not by the almighty then certainly by our friends. It would therefore seem that the past has a stronger pull for us than the unknown future. It was the cabbage moths that got me started on a memory of me as a twelve year old - standing five feet tall like some ancient guardian of the gates, in the centre of my parents' tiny back garden set in the middle of a row of terraces, dealing out lethal and telling blows with my sister's old wooden tennis racquet to any poor cabbage moth that dared attempt a landing on my father’s lettuces. Forehand, backhand, overhead smash, I dealt out instant death to all. Nowadays, with a more liberal approach, I just let them get on with it.
It doesn’t just stop with the moths; moments of reflection can come unannounced at any time of the day or night. Day time I can handle - in fact, some days I positively encourage them by closing my eyes and settling back in an easy chair. Off I go into a trance where both the dead and the living come flooding into my life as if they never left. Night-time is a different kettle of fish all together; waking from a deep sleep at three am seems to invite all of those unwanted memories back for a good old think-a-thon. I've always believed that I can easily come to terms with things I've done in the past which on reflection I shouldn't have done. What I do have problems with is dealing with those things I didn’t do. These regrets are easily managed during the day with many distractions at hand but on a cold winter night one tends to roll around the bed unwilling to leave its warmth, agonizing over something that happened forty years ago. Why does it still bother me? There's no easy answer to this question; I've tried walking around the house, visiting rooms I hardly ever go in, watching television and checking for any new emails. On returning to bed the same thoughts crowd me and only disappear when sleep grudgingly returns.
So what does one do about the past, or at least about travelling into it? Is it a healthy road to travel and good for the soul or should it be avoided wherever possible and regarded as wasteful and self indulgent? After all, when we finally turn up our toes our past goes with us. We can write it down for posterity, hand it on to the up and coming, but it’s not the same and they will always be our memories, experiences, failures and triumphs no matter how well we recorded them. Perhaps I should continue to enjoy those solitary moments of travel when I drift back in time to relive some of those more rewarding and happy moments etched into my brain. Thinking back now I do recall a newspaper article written about a game of tennis I played in a Tuesday night comp. They described my forehand cross court as lethal. Oh how little did they know.
Written by Jeff Williams