Two Ways of Seeing the Past

Loosely based off of Mark Twain’s “Two Ways of Seeing a River” 

A fly buzzing around the nose, the car coughs, but does not sputter, “We’re Sorry” read the factory letter, a Tower crumbling on TV, an unspeakable slur echoes from next door, a dead man with 3 holes in his black chest in the morgue, a society of discomforts, a damning reality. A retreat is necessary, an escape imperative. The past offers a succinct retreat. After all, isn’t it easy to look back, and dream of a time long since past? Recline the head, close the eyes. Roll far back to a remote escape where the romantic image of a simple life persists. There is a trusty, browning car, chipped and flaked, with a crack shining a brilliant orange in the distant, hazy sunset; a family waiting around a laden table lit by an ebbing ember aglow; a neighbor at the fence who drawls “‘ello, ‘ow you bin?” on the saunter home after hours; a sheriff who’s calloused hand hails to ask “Anything I could do?”; a wizened brown figure licking their inwardly curled lips whilst swaying upon an ancient rocker, muttering tales of a time past; a factory from which spilled a sea of clouds whose reflections shone in the glass waters of the pond teeming with fish; a man whose white undershirt is stained with oil, whose sweaty, ebony skin glistens in the late afternoon light as he carries a crumpled paycheck in hand, nodding “Suh”.

Who wouldn’t wish to return? Upon arrival to the memories of past, the problems of reality dissipate, an easing of the downpour of difficulties that rain down from a personal thunderstorm. One day, the past will cease to deceive. The romance becomes lost in a burst of blinding light. The trusty Chevy did not start start on cold mornings as its mileage was far past the normal quantity; the family was split between capitalist and communist views and argued all dinner about who would clean the ashes from the fire; the neighbor at the fence would return at night drunk and angry about his draft slip; the sheriff was on his way to disband a civil rights protest; the old man in the rocking chair was unable to move after a Nazi bullet shattered his spinal cord and spent his days muttering the name of his less fortunate friend; the factory would pollute the atmosphere with clouds of CO2 and would render the pond inert with a deadly torrent of mercury; the African American passing by was clutching a paycheck only worth half of what his white coworker made.

Knowledge only served to illuminate the darkness held within reality. Perhaps for some, this dark light is a constant within their lives. The astrophysicist, for whom the stars don’t twinkle and glow while lying on sand in a dark desert, but are merely balls of burning gas seen in equations and telescopes. They are seeing the past. They see millions of years ago, but do they appreciate the gift of literal hindsight? Perhaps knowledge of the past is necessary. But can it compare to the bliss of ignorance?


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