The Ghosts of the Past

Shakespeare once said, “The past is prologue”.

Prologues are important: they set the tone; they are the foundation of the story; they are the pages you re-visit and finally turn to when the story comes to an end. We would never skip the prologue of a book, then why is it that we race from the past like it’s a plague? If you look closely, the past shadows us all the time, in the cracks of our minds, spoken words, written words. The past is a ghost twirling against the walls of old cities, trailing roads we walk every single day. When we think of ghosts people often think of figures in white, death, the unknown, scary movies, something to crawl away from under the safe haven of your bed sheets. Like ghosts the past is something society rather avoids. We are taught to put the past in a box, lock it up and tuck it away somewhere safe. And when we do peel open the lid to take a quick peek inside, we quickly shut it again. But the past refuses to remain locked up, because the present becomes the past the moment it happens. They work like two opposite sides of a magnet: they don’t repel, like we are taught, instead they attract, inescapably linked to each other. To me, the lingering shapes of what once was do more than just linger, they continue to exist in the world. They come to us as ghosts of the past.

I was forced into this realization recently, when I found myself waking up in a scary movie of my own. A film without pause or stop options, only a speed up button the main character could not keep up with—a plot set in motion by something more dreadful than jump scares and more pervasive than the eerie creaking doors of a haunted house. But when the movie was finished and I stepped over the threshold of the haunted house, I realized it was the world I lived in which had become haunted without warning. When someone isn’t doing well, we tell them to “move on”. It will get better with time. They say time makes everything better. As if it’s some kind of remedy, a band aid called future to cover up a gaping wound. But what is a future without someone you love? Uncertain. The only certain thing you hold are the positive memories of the past, things that have already been set in stone, ghosts that still remain. You see, the reason I found myself in this haunted manor was the loss of someone very dear to me: my best friend. Now I am left with nothing but our past, her future, and along with that, our shared future swept away. Every corner I take, memories awake. While these memories may be confronting during the process of healing, they are the only way to connect the present to someone who is gone. Except, I found that this haunting world I found myself in was not a bad kind of haunting as it made me realize no one is ever truly gone. If I look closely I see our shapes. They are alive, present time within my mind, past and present intertwined. If I close my eyes I can hear our laughter echoing through the streets, said words still hovering in the air. Past dialogue turns into present in my mind. I know which words would follow the sentences I whisper to her in my head. Through the past she’s alive and without it she’s dead. You see, it is because of these ghosts of the past I can deal with the present at all. By allowing the past to co-exist with the present I feel her presence every day. And while people often tell you that thinking about someone you lost will fade with time as if this is a positive forecast, I cannot see why. Instead of seeing these ghosts, these hauntings, as something with potential, we turn away. We shut the door of the haunted manor, not realizing the haunting is not attached to the manor, but to ourselves.

So why is it that this idea of moving on, of locking our ghosts up in their manors, is so persistent? People seem to think that by shutting this door, another door opens up. A door which leads to an endless hallway of hope, possibilities and opportunities. We are told walking this hallway offers us the most precious thing society holds: the future. If you think about it, everything we do is centered around the future. From an early age we are trained that every footstep we take should be carefully positioned on the path of the future. Having one foot ‘stuck’ in the past is then perceived as something which keeps us from reaching the destination of the future. But if our hopes of the future included those now left in the past, how does this alter our concept of the future? The past was once centered around the future too. Countless of plans, ideas, hopes, all decked on a shelf. What if I want to take these things, pocket them, take them with me on my journey? Without the hopes of the past, how can we ever work towards our future? 

When I was first confronted with these questions I felt a sense of dread. Someone’s physical absence can be overwhelming, which is probably why we run from our ghosts. But this accelerated pace towards the future did not help me find my grounding. Instead of running, I found a way to re-work the future; our future. I realised that the past is not limited to the past, but neither is the present, or the future. After all, the past builds the present, and together they are the foundation of the future. We are always surrounded by all three concepts of time. For me this meant that I could embrace the ghosts of the past and allow them to help me build my future. Sometimes they appear on my own terms and sometimes when I least expect it. But by being in touch with these ghosts, I have found a way of healing without locking them up in dark and gloomy manors.

Through a re-thinking of the way time has been imposed on us, I see my ghosts everyday. By allowing them into the present, their presence never truly goes away. While we can lose someone physically, we can never completely lose them if we allow time to co-exist. The people we lose do not exist in the past, in fact they are not attached to any time periods, they are attached to us. This haunting assures that so many parts of their beings surround us everyday. They exist with us in this world. As long as I view time the way that I do, as long as I exist, as long as you exist, as long as we all exist, so long as we leave the doors of their manors open, merging past, present and future, we can revisit our loved ones whenever we want.


1 Comment

  1. This is beautifully written, and I am sorry for your loss. There will always be ghosts in our past that will haunt us, but we don’t have to be afraid of them. I think you’re right about society being too future focused, so that we don’t slow down to examine and treasure the past. Thanks for sharing.

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