the current me and the younger me

Perhaps because of the circumstances and difficulties of the past year, I find myself from time to time thinking about the younger me. There are some very immediate reasons. Working with students, I can’t help but be reminded of my own student days, and in particular working through for the first time bits of math then encountered for the first time. There are other reasons as well; as part of the poetic science project, we’ve been asked to explore our own professional foundation myth, and create a poem from it.

I don’t remember starting aikido. Or rather, I remember that I started aikido (more than twenty years) and I have memories, flashes from those early days like snapshots, but I don’t remember the struggle of learning the mechanics of ikkyo for the first time, or kote gaeshi. My struggles these days are very different, working on refinements rather than basic mechanics.

It’s interesting trying to put myself, albeit figuratively, back into the skin of the younger me. Part of this I think is the old phenomenon is distance, the distance between teacher and student that I’ve written about elsewhere in these pages. The teacher continues to develop and deepen their understanding, whereas the new student always arrives fresh, ignorant for lack of a better term, perhaps knowing only the basics, if that. Thus, distance.

Here, though, that distance is between the current me and the younger me. The current me has continued to develop, to deepen my understanding, and this clouds the memory of the younger me. There are some things I’ve just been thinking about for a long time now. One thing that requires work is to find and appreciate the joy we feel at the new, at encountering for the first time. But it’s work that I’m willing to put in, that I like to put in.

The world has also changed. My much younger self didn’t have the Internet, for instance, and the Internet has wreaked some fundamental changes on how we live, how we communicate, how we access the information and knowledge gathered over the centuries by humanity. Different skills are required to navigate this current world.

And so, the old question. There is a trope in science fiction, going back in time and inhabiting our younger skin, reliving our lives, correcting our mistakes and taking different paths. This comes I suppose from our belief, our fear, that our younger selves would be somehow disappointed in our current self. Disappointed perhaps that we haven’t achieved all that we dreamed. Disappointed perhaps that we haven’t lived all of the adventures we planned. And as tempted as I am to hope that my younger self would look at me and be content, I’m also struck by how there’s no way of knowing. The distance is too great, the river of time too fast and too deep, And all we can do is to move forward from where we stand at the moment.

~ by Jim Anderson on 15 February 2021.

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