I was putting off working on a presentation. I presented it for the first time back in February, and now I needed and wanted to revamp it for a different venue in November. But after so many months away from it, the material felt distant and fraught with potential difficulty – like a once known but challenging foreign land that I had to now return to and navigate at length.
So, a couple of weeks ago, I started sitting down for short sessions to work on it in small bits, trying to brush away the cobwebs and find my way back into it.
Time is an amazing thing. Of course, there are so many different ways that is true that it borders on cliché. I am specifically thinking of how our perspective changes with time – how what we thought or felt in the past is very often different in the present in ways we couldn’t possibly have anticipated. And one of the most interesting aspects of that to me is that we can’t rush or force such shifts. It is only through the passing of time – learning new things, encountering new people, experiencing the rise or fall of intense emotions, having distance from the situation or topic – that our perspective can shift. (There are those longed-for flashes of insight and instantaneous change that we are sometimes graced with, but, generally, we have to be patient.)
Having set aside my presentation for several months, I am finding that I am now able to think about it in new ways. As a long-time writer, this is not a new experience to me, but I am always pleasantly surprised and even amazed when it happens yet again – when time really does, again, change how I see things. I am now able to let a whole section of my presentation go altogether, completely reorganize big chunks, and generally allow a different structure. It would have been painful, if not almost impossible, to do that when I was preparing for my February presentation – things were solidifying to the point then that I couldn’t have afforded or maybe even tolerated such a “killing of my babies” (as I’ve heard the editing process described). And besides, that was how I saw the material then. That was my understanding of it then. So I went with what I knew and created at that time. That’s all any of us can do.
Were I to do the presentation a third and fourth time, the same thing would happen again. I would again see it with different eyes and have new things to include. And there is something very encouraging in that. That no matter the situation, we will feel and see differently later and others will too. New things will enter into the picture. And yet knowing that, we still have to be here and now. We can’t fast forward to it. We can’t know how things will change.
It makes me think of a scene from the movie, “Out of Africa.” Robert Redford’s character is talking about an African tribe whose members die when they are put in prison. Meryl Streep’s character asks him why. He says, “Because they live now. They don’t think about the future. They can’t grasp the idea that they’ll be let out one day. They think it’s permanent. So, they die.”
In looking up this quote, I came across comments that this was an overly romanticized notion of the book’s author, Karen Blixen, but that doesn’t lessen its usefulness in the point I am making here. I think we all get trapped in this way. We tend to believe that the current reality is The Way It Will Always Be. We tend to forget that the passing of time brings new possibilities and clearer perspective. This doesn’t mean that things always get better or that we are on an ever-upward arc, but it does mean that there is more room for change in the future than we can possibly imagine. The challenge is to remember that and look beyond what we sometimes feel to be unalterable or impossible prison walls.
© Amanda Norcross and Learning to Listen to Soul, 2012.