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DB Lampoon! Massacred by Memories

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Peter Sherwood rings in the New Year on a bit of a high, actually

Happy New Year! Meanwhile, I’ll try to recall the old one. Unhappily I can tell you more about 1976 (for example). As we get older, we stop having memories; memories have us. Like looking out the back window of a fast-moving car, everything up close is a blur, while the distance is sharp and clear. When existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre said that, I thought he was existentially nuts. He wasn’t.

We become a victim of memory, which would be fine if these bleak images didn’t assault us in the early hours, and they weren’t all gloomy. No fun stuff, only dark reminders of failures and the frightening. Having lived life on the edge, I always took scary experiences in stride but assailed by these recollections at 3am, they morph into a hideous horror movie when the benefit of hindsight is no benefit at all.

Which brings me (with the help of poetic licence) to the bestseller The Power of Now. Living in the present is Biblical, Buddhist, probably Bacchanalian, and applies equally to Badminton and Lawn Bowls. Indeed, the past and present don’t exist, so a key to contentment in life (and on the tennis court) is to stay in the moment. Simple but not easy. And maybe impossible given the power of the human mind for wild peregrinations. As soon as we recognise the moment it has already passed.

An empty mind is a theme of meditation, and while there is evidence to support the view that some minds exist in a vacuum, for everyone else there is no such thing as empty. Here’s the problem: Survival is our strongest instinct (after shopping, coffee and fiddling with our phones). That demands devotion to looking ahead. I’ve tried all the clever tricks to stay present and to block out the intruding night-time nasties. None of them work. Maybe it’s like the old country song I Forgot to Remember to Forget.

While declaring the future to be excitingly better, the glass-half-full people axiomatically state that today is not worth much. Sinatra agreed. He had the title of one of his hit songs engraved on his tombstone: The Best is Yet to Come. Sorry, Frank. Love your work. But I don’t think so. ‘Worry not about the morrow?’ Hullo! We are seriously devoted to avoiding today. We’re future freaks.

I have to say, with great reluctance, that the answer to the now and later question can only be answered by the literal minded. I cringe at answering any question literally, because the pedantic in me has been surgically removed. But the fact is the present does not exist except for the sake of philosophical argument and to create some mythical sanity as we thrash ferociously into tomorrow. Seems to me there is only the immediate past and the immediate future. What the hell do I know?

Maybe Woody Allen was right: “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose wisely.” Debate it with Woody. My brain hurts.

Peter Sherwood has lived in DB for 20+ years. The former head of an international public relations firm, he is the author of 15 books and has written around 400 satirical columns for the South China Morning Post.

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