Hong, our foreign exchange student, asked me in the car the other day if I would ever go back to a certain time in my life and re-live it again, if I could.
It was a good question.
I told him no.
He seemed surprised. “Not even high school?”
I tried not to grimace. “Definitely not high school.”
I told him that life was fascinating in that the more you live it, the more you learn, and the more you move beyond the things of the past and move on to more interesting things. That’s not to say that I don’t hope that high school students will enjoy high school, or that college students will enjoy college. It’s just that now that I’m personally past those things, I have no desire to go back and re-live any of it. Because I’ve grown. I’ve moved on. And hopefully, I’m wiser because of it.
I told Hong that I love being exactly the age I am now. I belong here in my mid-thirties. My mind belongs in its mid-thirties. College was fun, and my 20’s were fun, but in many ways, I’m very glad that I don’t have the concerns and emotions of a 25 year old any longer. And I must suppose that someday I may be smarter and wiser at 45 or 55 – but I don’t need to be there just yet. I’m perfectly content where I am.
Does that mean that I don’t appreciate the past for what it was? Of course not. It’s just that as we grow, old thrills are incapable of continuing to thrill.
C.S. Lewis writes a bit about this – about thrills you once felt “at the beginning” when you first encountered something – like the dream to fly a plane when you were a child, or of seeing a beautiful place for the first time. He says that these kinds of earlier thrills do tend to fade away when you actually learn to be the pilot or go to live in the beautiful place, but that the loss is meant to be compensated by a “quieter and more lasting kind of interest.” He says that it is “Simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go – let it die away – go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow – and you will find that you are living in a world of new thrills all the time.”
Lewis muses that if instead you try to prolong those more immature thrills artificially, “they will get weaker and weaker, and fewer and fewer, and you will be a bored, disillusioned old man for the rest of your life.” He goes on to say that “It is because so few people understand this that you find many middle-aged men and women maundering about their lost youth, at the very age when new horizons ought to be appearing and new doors opening all around them. It is much better fun to learn to swim than to go on endlessly (and hopelessly) trying to get back the feeling you had when you first went paddling as a small boy.”
Truly, there is a season for everything. And it all fits together into a story of you that is currently linear. So yeah, if someone offered me a time machine, I wouldn’t want to use it. Life is meant to be read like a book – from front to back.
It would seem that King Solomon is still wise:
“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.”
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8