If the present changes the past, what do we do with the future?

I’ve never before begun a decade with a sense that one has just ended.

As 2019 ticked down to a close I felt like I’d finished a book, and was putting it down lightly on the table, both pleased and relieved to be done, marvelling at what had gone on and how everyone had survived.

I saw a lot of lists online where people recounted how their lives had changed in the poorly named ’10s’ and so I know this feeling wasn’t mine alone.

For me, the sense of time passing is linked to the happenings of the last ten years, where my friends and I became official grown ups, had real heartbreaks and real love, did things like get degrees, start families, married and divorced, started careers and made choices that would shape our future. ‘It’s because we’re old now’ was said by more than one person, more than once.

Now that we’re here, in the pleasingly named 20s, what meaning do we make of what has happened and where do we take it? What do we do with all this time?

I recently read a selection of T.S. Eliot’s writing. In one of the essays (written more than 100 years ago) titled ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, he wrote about the magic that is creating a piece of art, and the transformation of time and perspective that occurs each time. The present influences the past as much as the past transforms the present.

He writes,

“…what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which proceeded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them … Whoever has approved this idea of order, … will not find it preposterous that the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past.”

T.S. Eliot, Tradition and the Individual Talent, 1917

So, it is in life, where we start a new decade knowing that each thing we do each day of this decade will affect how the previous one feels, is experienced, and what it means and meant.

The significance of today might, in a few days or months or years, become insignificant, or, the meaning of a moment could be amplified and change our lives. So, what do we do with this new decade, this new future and past that we were given two days ago (or today, or just now)?

Neil Gaiman had some advice a few years back that felt just right.

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.
Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.
So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.
Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.
Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

Neil Gaiman, My New Year Wish, 2011

Like this one, the next decade will have good days and bad ones, discovery and loss, creation and destruction, weather, love and pain, family (chosen or inherited), old and new friends, kindness and cruelty, choices. What this all means is up to us.

Ten years from now I hope to look back with the same sense of awe at life and the living of it, and laugh at the unreliability of certainty and the certainty of unpredictability.

Somewhere in all of it we’ll make our way. Good luck.