Last week, my iPhone fell victim to the blue screen of death. I'll be honest - I didn't even know that could happen. I thought the blue screen of death was a Microsoft phenomenon. But, no - there was my Apple product, glowing a serene, peaceful blue, but doing nothing else.
After a couple of hours of Googling and trouble-shooting, I restored the phone to its original factory settings. My photos were backed up, thank goodness, but everything else was gone. Or almost everything.
I opened my contact list and was startled to find that it wasn't empty. My current contact list had been replaced by the contact list I had when I upgraded to my very first iPhone, and it was a startling reminder of how much my life has changed since then. I felt like a modern-day Ebeneezer Scrooge, visited by the Ghost of iPhone Past. My husband Brian was missing from my contact list, and there, in his virtual place, was Somebody That I Used To Know. It triggered an avalanche of images in my mind - images of what was, what is, and what might have been. And, like Scrooge, I emerged from it grateful for where I am right now.
A few days later, my friend Alysia posted to Facebook a question posed by her son Howie: Would you rather go back in time one time or go into the future one time? You
could come back to the present time, but you couldn't time travel again.
Strangely, my contact list sprang to mind.
When the past was the present, when my old contact list was not old, I was happy - happy with my contact list, and happy with my life. But I know things now, here in 2015, that I didn't know then, and those things make me view that time differently. They cast a different light on the actions I took and the choices I made. They make that time seem less happy, or they make my happiness seem foolish. They make me judge myself unfairly, and too harshly.
Because here's the thing - as I go through life, I try to do the best I can with the information I have at the time. In many cases, I get new information later - information that suggests that I should have made my decisions differently. But it's simply not fair for the information-rich current-me to judge the informationless past-me for not using the information I didn't have.
And here's another thing about the past. We have all shaped our memories in particular ways for particular reasons. Perhaps sometimes our memories are inaccurate and self-serving, but they are ours, and they play an important role for us as we move forward. If we were to travel back to the past to view or experience that time with our right-now knowledge, we would see that time differently and, I fear, our dearest memories might suddenly seem less dear.
There were some sweet responses to Alysia's post. One person said she'd like to visit the past so she could go fishing with her grandpa one more time. And that is incredibly sweet. But I still wouldn't do it. Because 40-something me would see Grandpa differently - would understand him differently - than 7-year-old me did, and 7-year-old me's perspective matters. It's whole and it's real and it's meaningful, and it's an important part of who I am now.
I wouldn't want to visit the future either. If, some years ago in my pre-iPhone existence, I had been given a glimpse of my current contact list, I think I would have panicked because of who was missing from it. And despite being told that it all worked out, that I found Brian and Buster, and that different turned out to be fabulous, I think that past-me would have spent those intervening years distracted with worry about how it would all play out. And, in in my distraction, I probably would have missed a lot of the good stuff.
We're all in the midst of an unfolding narrative, and it has to unfold in its own time. I'm glad that no one told me in my youth what would happen in my life up to now. I don't think that back then I could have appreciated that loss and grief would make me more kind, that making poor choices would help me learn to make better ones, or that a diagnosis that seemed terrifying at first would later reveal itself to hold a million different gifts. I'm afraid I would have lived my life with a sense of fear, or dread, or foreboding. Instead, having let the narrative unfold, and having taken the time to process it as it did, I can appreciate the richness of my experience and the joy of the space I'm in now. (I don't peek ahead at the endings of books either. I just don't want to know until I'm ready to know.)
So, my reply to Alysia, which probably seemed off-the-cuff but was actually the result of considerable phone-inspired pondering, was this: "I'll stay right where I am - blissfully ignorant of the future and happily ensconced in my revisionist history of the past."
But I've learned an important lesson from my recent brush with the past. In the future, I will back up my iPhone.