Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Past Is Not Just A Good-Bye

I was recently walking past the National Archives building in downtown Washington, DC when I stopped to reconsider the inscriptions found below the imposing statues designed by Robert I. Aitken and carved by the Piccirilli Brothers Company. I am especially drawn to the two that have flanked the entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue since 1935. One calls on us to “Study the Past” while the other announces “What is Past is Prologue,” a line inspired by William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” Both of these inscriptions have stuck with me over the decades I conducted research here. There are two similar statues on the Constitution Avenue side of the building, and one of these offers another appropriate inscription. "The Heritage of the Past is the Seed that Brings Forth the Harvest of the Future."

Indeed, we all have a history which colors how we view and interpret our present circumstances while anticipating what the future might bring. It has been noted by others that much of the instability and recklessness in the present is due, at least in part, to the fact that we have not come to terms with what we have experienced yet failed to learn from in the past. We do not have a whole sense of who we are and why. We do not seem to learn from our mistakes. Many are too impatient to strike out into the future not knowing what it holds. Why are we in such a hurry? Maybe we should stick around and smell the roses for awhile.

One of the reason I post these blogs is to come to terms with various aspects of my own past. I really do want to know who I am and why. How did I get here? Why do I have the values I have? I am curious about the future, but I am just as happy to revel in the past and enjoy each day for what it has to offer. The future will get here soon enough.

Leaving the National Archives I walked across the street and went down into a Metro station serving Washington, DC’s subway system. I took a seat facing the rear of the car. I was not so interested in staring at the backs of heads of others who are plunging faceless into the future. I would rather look into the faces of those who look to the future yet are still in my immediate past. I am not turning my back on the future, but the past speaks to us in profound ways and should not be ignored nor neglected.

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