People say all the time that they have no regrets. Me, I’m practically defined by them; a man with no regrets is a man with no imagination, as far as I’m concerned, and I say that all too often for people around me, I suspect. Still, I confess I’m mystified by people who essentially admit they can’t think of anything in their past that could have gone better had they made a different decision. Equally, I fail to understand the virtue of still being the same person you were 40 or 50 years ago. As Muhammad Ali said, someone who has the same opinions at age 50 as they had at age 20 has wasted 30 years of life.
Maybe that’s why, now that I’m old, I have this strange compulsion to revisit my life, to retrace my steps. I’m drawn to places, both actual and conceptual, I passed through on my way here, to physically visit them, to stand in my own footsteps to see — what?
It’s not at all clear what it is I’m looking for, certainly not a glimpse of myself as I was then; that’s a vision that’s all too clear. Nor is it primarily an attempt to reconstruct what I was thinking, to re-find or redefine whatever it was I thought I was doing, although that would certainly be interesting. I’m not looking for redemption, or even a rationale.
Part of it is to correct the unconscious revisions I have made to my own history. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of reconnecting, after many years, with an old friend or acquaintance, only to find that there are at least two contradictory versions of some common experience. These things are seldom resolved, though. We generally each come away wondering how the other person could have gotten the memory so wrong and yet be so sure. It needs a new term to describe these common events. How about “memoroid?” I think that has enough innuendo hanging from it to serve the purpose.
No doubt what I’m looking for is a lot closer to hand and a lot easier to get at than a precisely calibrated reconstruction of the past. See, I don’t think you can have a realistic assessment of who you are without a clear picture of who you were.
That gets both more and less difficult as you get older.