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tire tracks, white sands

by Kevin Carrel Footer

The past reminds me of things that were. Like sugar-coated castles, those things glimmer in the distance and their beauty overwhelms me. I would like to return, but cannot. I can find no way back to the lost places. The maps have been destroyed; the paths twist out of recognition.

The roots of nostalgia are written into the very fibers of our existence. Life is lineal: a series of events that trail behind us, moment succeeding moment, like a string in a labyrinth. We can only go deeper down into the cave, head into corridors we have never known. Should we mischievously try to turn back, cheat destiny, we will find that everything has changed, that the corridors we thought we knew are blocked.

It is bad enough that life is lineal, that one must go into new territory even when one would rather stay behind; even worse, though, is that life is finite. For all one’s struggles, for all one’s discoveries, for all the beauty that one finds in unexpected places, it all must end.

Hobbes obtained notoriety for having observed that life is “nasty, brutish and short.” Those words live on, partly because we suspect that there is more to life than that, and partly because they ring uncomfortably close to the truth – especially the “short” part: it’s bad enough that it is nasty and brutish; even worse, it’s all over so soon.

I would give anything to be able to go back to certain places that are out of reach. And yet there is nothing I can give that would be enough. I cannot go back to a sunlit afternoon on the grass beneath the bell tower during my first year at university where she acquiesced to words of love; nor to the beach in Carmel where I built sandcastles with my best friend in a summer that seemed too perfect; I cannot go back to the car ride where we listened to a new song and danced in our seats as the country rolled by; I cannot go back to the garden where my father puttered with his plants; nor to the day we drilled a hole in the wooden wall that separated my bedroom from that of my sister’s so that we would be connected forever.

Those moments, in their perfection, I will never be able to forget. They are imprinted on me as firmly as a tattoo or the lines on my face. It is both a blessing and a curse. Without memory, I would lose these precious things forever, the entire fortune of my heart. But with it, I must live each day in the awareness that whatever gave those moments their strange harmony – and many times I do not know why those moments survive while so many others have been lost – has been destroyed beyond recognition.

The only way back is forward.

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