Reaching back into the past fulfills a need to connect with the history that makes us who we are as we move forward into the future. We shape that future by what we know, feel, remember and believe about how life was and should be. We build monuments to good men and women because we want a constant memory of greatness that has walked on the face of the earth. The evil deeds of the past are documented and stored away and all but a few of their signifying landmarks are destroyed. The remaining are preserved in infamy. Just think of Auschwitz. Not much left of that horrible place. But people turn places as terrible as that into memorials, too. They need a place to represent what should never happen again to the generations of the future.
So we tear down the old that does not accommodate our future – but we almost always preserve something from the past, even if it does not fit into the present human need. It’s the way we either preserve a culture that is ancient, or establish a culture in infancy.
Humans are always holding onto something from the past, even as they try to forget parts of that same past. They spend millions of hours with therapists, and take billions of dollars in drugs, all to forget, meanwhile stopping off at a garage sale or visiting an old family member to collect something old, then heading off to a museum or memorial.
Somehow, holding on to a piece of the past, or viewing it through a class display, gives us a sense of longevity that extends beyond our individual years.
I carry a small copper coin in my wallet that is about 1,000 years old. It has little present day value, but it’s cool. Someone probably used it way back to buy a loaf of bread to feed their family. Someone else used it to buy a bath. And someone probably used it to buy a music lesson. It makes me feel connected to people who are very , very, long gone. Which means I feel connected to more than just the folks I can see and hear around me, or the ones I remember. I like to think that someone 500 years ago carried this coin around in their wallet to feel a connection, and that someone 200 years ago did, too. And I like to imagine that someone 1,000 years from now will carry this same coin around in their wallet, and somehow feel connected to me, so I can still be a part of the human race, even though by then I will have been long, long gone.
The coin represents my reach far back to the past, but it also represents my thoughts way forward into the future. I’m not sure that my hopes and dreams for the human race 1,000 years from now is going to make a huge difference, but I think it is imperative to write stuff and leave what I can of myself so that someone far in the future who feels the need to connect can reach back, dig up an ancient server, get it running, and read my website posts. Maybe what I, and billions of others who write blogs, post good ideas on Facebook, and tweet inspiring tweets, leave behind will help those in the far future shape their futures in some minuscule way.