What's your first memory? Mine is of sitting on a tricycle on the sidewalk outside my little red brick duplex apartment on Englewood Avenue in Durham, North Carolina. It was in the morning, I think. I was coasting down the sidewalk on the gentle hill and feeling my first sensation of speed. My mother was standing at the front door. She seemed far away. It was my first feeling of being out on my own, and responsible for my own safety, and experience. The passage of time was different then, much slower. There was an extended fullness of the present moment that most of us don't feel after those early years of childhood.
We moved from that house before I was three. So, I'm pretty sure that the remembered moment on that tricycle came from when I was two. The year was then 1954. I have a few other memories from that house. But that's it. And I now wonder. What was my consciousness like in those days, generally, moment by moment, from first waking up in the morning, until falling asleep at night? Was the expansive fullness and self awareness of that remembered moment reflected in every other moment? I don't know. I can't immediately recall much from those years. I don't remember my bedroom, but know that I had one. It was a two bedroom apartment, with one bathroom and a small living room, and a tiny kitchen. I remember the white sink in the bathroom. And the creaky screen door that was beside the little table where we ate.
What was my mind like six months before my that moment of my first memory, or a year earlier? What was my experience like? I wish I could recall all of it. Because, otherwise, I wonder: What was I, as a person at that early time, like? Was there a sunrise of consciousness, but one that memory can't quite reach back to reveal? When was my first moment of self reflective awareness, being both conscious of the world, and aware of my consciousness? When was yours?
I remember, while living in that little house, entertaining one day what was likely my first philosophical thought, right after watching a show on our black and white television set. I mused: "I wonder if my life is like a tv show where I'm the star, and all the other people around me are just here on my show." And then I remember asking myself, "Or maybe do they think that all of this is their show and that I'm just on it?" And then, "Who's show is this, anyway?" I'm amazed that I had such thoughts prior to the age of three, but maybe we all have early musings about what this world, and this life, really is. Did you?
When did you become the person you are now? What shaped you and formed you? Are you still in a state of becoming? Aristotle thought so, even without knowing you. What are you becoming now? And how does your childhood, and your memory function in that becoming? We all tell ourselves a story about who we were and how we got to where we are now. Are you telling yourself a good story, a deep and empowering one that will set you up well for whatever comes next? Is your story helping to make you better as a person, or not?
The past prepares us for the future, but doesn't define us, or ever need to hold us back. And yet, still, it can give us hints, of things we need to develop, or shed, or build on, or overcome. I'm at a stage of life when I'm thinking more than ever before of consulting the past as a way of understanding more deeply the present, and then moving more deliberately into the future that awaits. And it's a practice I can recommend.
It's important for us all to make good use of what we have. Because, after all, it's most likely, in the end, that we're all costars in this show that we act, and write, in many mysterious ways, together. What improves one of us improves the entire show.