My great uncle was known for his whimsical and sometimes rather dirty sayings. He wouldn't sugar-coat it. He told you what he thought and wouldn't hold back. One of my favorite sayings he had was, "When I wake up in the morning, I only have to shave one face." He was implying that he wasn't "two-faced" and he certainly didn't like it when people acted "two-faced".
I couldn't help but think of my great uncle and this saying of his as I thought about the Roman god Janus, whom the month of January is named after. Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions, and is often depicted as having two faces - one looking back and the other looking forward.
I can still remember the advice that my driving instructor gave me when I was taking Driver’s Ed. about eighteen years ago. To be honest with you, most of what I learned I have forgotten by now, and certainly don't apply to my driving. I am a horrible driver and I have the record to prove it. But the reason I still remember this piece of advice though is because it not only applies to driving, but is also is true of life. I had a habit of looking in my rear view mirror when driving. And one day, while I was driving with my driving instructor apparently he noticed this and asked me to carefully pull over to the shoulder of the highway and put the car in park. When I did this he said to me, “Chris, while it’s always good to look back and see where you’ve been, it is more important to look ahead and see where you’re going!”
Nearly eighteen years later, I remember that advice. Over the course of my fifteen years of driving, I have gone as far north as Niagara Falls, Canada and as far south as Destin Beach, Florida; I have driven out West as far as Missouri and through many major cities including New York City a number of times. I have developed the technique of “defensive driving.” I had a friend, who is a New Yorker tell me once when driving in New York City all that you are responsible for is the front half of your vehicle, not the back half. Seldom do New Yorkers use their rear view mirror. They are a people who are conditioned to “look forward.” “While it’s always good to look back,” my instructor told me, “and see where you’ve been, it is more important to look ahead see where you’re going!”
Inevitably, the question that is asked when taking a road trip is, "Where are you headed?" We're all headed somewhere. But seldom do you hear, "How far have you come?" or "Where have you been?" We don't tend to want to focus on where we've been or how far we have come. Oftentimes, we want to forget the past. After all, we've heard that it's not healthy to live in the past.
My grandmother suffered from Alzheimer's. One of things I found interesting when talking with her was her inability to be aware of the present, but she was able to recall memories from long ago. She was not conscience of the present, but she remembered the past. She lived in the past. Eventually, though, she was unable to recall anything. This disease robbed her of her memory. But I found this stage of her disease when she recalled countless memories of yesteryear fascinating. It taught me to treasure the past. We are not to live in the past, but we are certainly to remember the past. It is part of who we are and it ultimately shapes where we are going.
I really don't like it when people say, "Forget the past - it's forgotten." First of all, it's not forgotten unless we have experienced some sort of memory loss. We have a difficult time forgetting the past, especially those hurts and pains that we have experienced. We can't forget them. We may try to suppress them, but this is unhealthy. And why should we forget the past? I mean after all, it is a part of who we are. Shouldn't we learn and grow from our past? Now, obviously, the past shouldn't define us, but rather redefine us. Someone once said, "Success and failure are two sides of the same coin?" As are past and present.
The Roman god Janus teaches us that we should look back. We should allow our past to teach us. We learn from our mistakes. And we are to look ahead. My great uncle may disagree with me, but maybe we really should have two faces. I have two faces, one that is looking back in that rear view mirror seeing the roads I have traveled and how far I've come; while the other is looking ahead to see where I'm headed.
My great uncle had an amazing memory. He could remember specific dates and details about people and events. He had an incredible memory. I remember telling him once that he was a know-it-all and he said, “You’re damn right.” He used to say, "Memory is one gift of God that death cannot destroy." I have many fond memories of E.L. and I will remember the lessons he taught me.