Back then

by | Oct 31, 2023

In the later half of their middle ages, my grandparents used to love playing the game “Back then”. “Back then, when I met your Grandad, it was more than 60 years ago.”, “Back then, when I, for the first time left home, it was colder than now it is”. One way or another, the game blended into our family gathering dinner like a tradition. There was the resurrection of defunct scenes. The scenes no doubt went in a non-linear way, without a starting point nor an ending, just like the flow of a nowhere river.

Similarly, my mind sometimes has its own identical game. Whenever I encounter something, a question arises: “What is the previous form of it?”. Like a recited poem from E.E.Cumming:

“(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows

higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)”

“What is the previous form of me before I typed these words?”.

I was on a motorbike which exhaled a kind of black and intense smoke that no one dared to breathe. Surrounding me was a crowded street full of these monsters.

“What is the previous form of the street?”. The sidewalk trees, which are constantly covered by the thick dust of the street, gently waved. At times, it seemed like they were saying, “Hey, our ancestors were there!”. Oh right, before the conquering of humans and the industrial advancement, there must have been a sacred place for trees, maybe even for some animals, maybe even for some water foundations like shining lakes or calm rivers. Back then, there was nature. Back then, whether human enlightenment ever existed or not, living things were still living.

Recalling how everything has become what they are offers a reflective and empathetic viewpoint. There is a popular philosophical dictum belonging to the classical world that “The unexamined life is not worth living”. Many interpretations may arise from this dictum, common among which is the underlying idea of being reflective of what we have done. Our past does not seem to be in a simplified cause-and-effect relationship with our present.

How can you know if you have walked down a different road, how life would have been divergent? Or if there had not been World Wars, how would the Earth have been different to what it has become now? Since life is full of separate variables, no single event can be so particularly decisive. The substance of life is unpredictability. How can we cope with the insecurities that may arise from that?

Amidst these definite uncertainties, that we dress our chains of life experience with our own scrutiny is the panacea. Here comes the value of poetry and literature in imbuing our lives with unspeakable meaning. To quote a saying from Dead Poets Society, “And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for”.

Our bygone things in life are deemed to be fertile pieces of land from which we grow the flowers of today and tomorrow. Then one day we will come back to the dust, our examined lives will become legacies for our future families.

Imagining other things in their afore-happened contexts also enriches our empathy towards everything and everyone. Seeing a person cutting down a tree, how would you react? You may feel much more enraged towards an accomplished person holding a wealth of privileges that everyone else dreams of than standing in front of a miserable man logging trees to make ends meet for his family. Socioeconomic statuses and political positions are worth considering, but they are still not the whole picture. What matters most is our attitude. By knowing the limitations of our worldview, everyone’s unique path, and the diverse colours the Tree of Life wears, we would become more humble and thorough before jumping to conclusions. Our hearts would be more open and empathic towards other people, even those whom we think have committed unforgivable things.

Common in today’s information flow is pessimistic news. Wars, natural disasters, and gloomy economic scenarios, to name just a few. Are we sad or even feeling desperate about these? We may be, and we have the right to feel that way, just embrace it and explore the roots of it. Moving forward is surely a thing we all do, whether you take life as a constant race or a patient river, and examined emotions are the drive for that.

Back then, after leaving the cafe shop, and walking down the street, I saw the trees and the wind dancing with each other in the background of the blue sky. Emotions and thoughts are entwined with each other in the infinite life. When you imagine and watch that scene, maybe the roots of humankind can be found nowhere but there.

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