Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Looking Back, Looking Forward

This is the time of year when we reflect on the past and plan for the future. Stephen Hawking provides his own perspective on it.

It's easy to think of the future as a spectrum of possibilities because we understand the opportunities we have to choose our next step on a forward-moving path. We perceive time as linear: from our point on the timeline back is the past; from our point forward is the future. The point itself is the present. Is it truly so cut and dry? Or are there bumps or cycles or turns in that timeline?

Have you ever, when first being introduced to a person, discovered you already knew they had three siblings? Has an unknown person sitting next to you on a plane voiced a question you just thought? Have you walked past a stranger on the street and turned back to find them turning to look at you as though in recognition? We've all experienced moments like these. We brush them off with comments like:
He kinda looks like my ex.
I must've muttered my question.
Her coat is the same color as my boss's.
Maybe we saw each other in the parking lot before
It couldn't be anything more than a fluke.
Because, of course, the past is fixed on that timeline. It already happened so what we're seeing now, what we're thinking, what we're experiencing, can't be real. Reality fixes time in a linear, clearly-defined path, doesn't it?

If Hawking is correct, and the past is also indefinite, then perhaps we have met that person before. Or that sense of having experienced this moment before? We have a phrase for that: deja vu. We shake our heads, smile with embarrassment and mutter an apology.

When we look back at our lives, we rarely think of it in linear terms. One story reminds us of another that happened years before. Or the scent of cookies takes us back to several childhood holiday baking memories that run together like watercolors. Did I burn my hand when I was six? or eight? Did we make marzipan with cousins or alone?

2016 has been labeled by many people as a year of troubles to leave behind. Was the entire year that way? Or was it only sections of it? Are our feelings accurate? And what does accurate mean when it comes to emotions?

My personal experience of the year was a bit of a roller coaster. I had several high points, including submitting my resignation and beginning the next phase of my life. Several low points, including a distressing election season and a broken toe, happened closer to the year's end and made leaving 2016 behind much easier!

What were your high points in 2016? What were your low points? Did they balance out? Did their proximity to the end of the year change how you viewed 2016? What are you looking forward to in 2017? What experiences of deja vu have you had recently? How do you feel about them? How do you perceive Stephen Hawking's comment on time?

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