I took a shortcut Friday afternoon from my office to my barber shop that took me through an industrial area where I used to spend a lot of time.
I hadn’t been on that part of Oxmoor Road in Homewood for about 15 years. Several of the printing companies I used to deal with — when I was a political consultant — are located in the area, so I was flooded with memories of late-night visits to do press-checks on mail pieces for my clients.
I printed dozens of jobs at Craftsman Printing right over there. Across from them was the old building where PressTech used to be before the owner — a man who did me more favors than I can count — unexpectedly killed himself on the press floor late one night.
My memory was flooded with faces and images and sensations of my time in the area. Part of me enjoyed the sweetly bitter sensation of experiencing a past which is now dead, but another part of me wanted to leave the area and never return. And then I had a sudden thought.
Memory Lane is a one-way street — and it’s a dead end.
I’ve reinvented myself half a dozen times during my career. I never planned such a path, but it has seemed entirely natural to me. I’ve been thinking about this for the last day — and I realize that every time I reinvent myself, I cut ties to who I’ve been and where I’ve been — and I leave that past behind.
Every time I start over, I have to cut my past off. I didn’t quite realize that until now. Most people seem to build a new stage of their lives on the framework of their previous stage, but I do it differently.
I sail a ship to a new place — metaphorically speaking — and then I burn the ship so that I have no way of going back.
As I’ve thought about this today, I’ve tried to think about reconnecting with places and people from my past — and the thought almost makes me shudder. I’m not angry with people from the past. I don’t have anything against the places I’ve been part of. But I’m so focused on where I’m going that memories of the past seem almost like burdens.
I don’t go to high school or college reunions. I’ve mentioned this before. I have no objection to the idea of reunions and I’m not angry with anybody from the past. They just don’t seem relevant to where I’m going.
I don’t spend a lot of time reminiscing with people I’ve worked with in the past. I know a lot of people who do that. Many of them are so full of memories that they spend their careers trying to recreate some fabled time from their youth. But nothing about the past is relevant to what I want to do now.
I’m not the same person I was 10 years ago or 20 years ago. The core part of me is the same. My values are the same. But I’ve shed a lot of masks and costumes which I used to hide behind. I’ve left behind a lot of things which don’t seem to matter anymore.
It sometimes surprises me to notice what I was reading, listening to and thinking about just 10 years ago. The changes in me have been very gradual, but the end result is that I’m very different from the person I used to be.
I have a lot of respect for my past. I would like to be able to take my future wife to places from my past and show her where I was shaped and what I did in those places. I’d like to take her to the newsroom of a small daily newspaper and say, “This is where I sat when I edited stories every day. This is where we put the pages together. This is where I checked the papers coming off the press.”
I’d like to do that with a number of places. I’d like to take her to the campus of the University of Alabama and show her where I had classes, where I used to station myself to watch people, where specific things that mattered happened to me.
I’d like for her to take me to the places the matter to her. I’d like to visit her hometown and her high school and her college and all the places that helped shape who she is.
Understanding the past — for yourself and your partner — can be very important to understanding how the present came about. But living there will make you stagnant. It will prevent you from moving forward.
I’m in a dynamic period right now when I’m thrashing about in an attempt to reinvent myself again. I don’t know exactly where it will be or who I’ll be with or what I’ll be doing. I have some clues, but I don’t know for sure.
Whatever it is, I know I will leave the dead past behind — where it belongs. My eyes are on the future and another reinvention. That’s where the excitement of life is, not in the past.