We live in the past. We imagine the future. But the present? That’s another story. Of course, people can understand why regret, for example, is a retrospective attitude and why wishful thinking is tied to the future. What might be a bit more difficult to grasp is the fact that we live most of our lives in the past. When someone asks you the question, “who are you?,” have you ever stopped to think how your response is most likely an inventory list of things you have accomplished in the past or attributes of yourself that are the result of past experiences? This is what existentialists have been trying to tell us for ages, that one of the greatest fiction of our lives is the belief that we are actually living the present. We fail to see how the unit of time we call the present is saturated with pastness beyond the point of recognition.
It is not our fault, and I doubt if it is in our control to do otherwise. Philosophers have often said that the present is an unlivable moment. We often think of the past as the moment we can no longer live since it is often lost to the passage of time. We also think of the future as unlivable because it is yet to come. Yet the present is the moment that, paradoxically, we cannot live. It is empty, dark, hollow, and insufficient ground for itself. The present always escapes us because it is the moment where the past folds into the future. Like the breaking of dawn, the present is fleeting. It emerges in a flash only to be consumed by the past and disappear into the future.
But another problem presents itself. If there is no present, then there cannot be a past. Remember that it is in the passing of the present that the past is created. The absence of a present can therefore only mean one thing, that the past has not yet happened. And all this confusion must, I am inclined to wonder, point to the fact that we have to look to the future for the present and the past. And since the future is always yet to happen, neither the past nor the present ever really takes place.
Photo Credit: Fast Eddie