“Nothing in my past life fills me with the vain desire to repeat it. I have never been anything more than a mere vestige, a simulacrum of myself. My past is everything I never managed to become. Not even the feelings associated with past moments make me nostalgic; what one feels is of the moment; once that is past the page turns and the story continues, but not the text.” — Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet
I confess that reading Pessoa is a struggle for me. I am a different person than he was, trying to engage with the world and not just be a witness to it. Still, I press on with his book, off and on, working to finish it one of these days. James Joyce said that life is too short to read a bad book, and I generally subscribe to that theory. The thing is, I don’t believe that The Book of Disquiet is a bad book, it’s just not a book that resonates with me at this moment. Yet here I am, quoting it anyway, precisely because some of what he writes does indeed resonate with me. Perhaps that’s enough in the end.
If you could, would you repeat a chapter of your life? When you think back on who you were at the time, would you do it again? In a life well-lived I should think you’d consider it for a beat or two. I might go back to a time of peak fitness and all the time in the world. But what is the trade-off? Would you do it all again the same way, or would you stray off the path into something different? It’s easy to remember the best of ourselves, but what of the worst?
Give me today, thank you. Give me the next chapter of this story, not the earlier chapters that merely set the stage for who I’ve become. There’s nothing to the past but faded memories and the things that got away from us. We can only do something meaningful with today, building on the momentum that brought us here. Life is a progression, not a regression. Our best days may yet be ahead of us.