My father is a high school teacher. In the high drama of your typical teenager’s life, the big picture is easy to lose. My father reminds his students, “If high school is the high point of your life, you’re doing it wrong.” Meaning Life. You’re doing Life wrong. High school should not be the best time you ever had. It should not be the greatest, most glorious four years that will ever be. If it is, that means the entire, long, rest of your life never got any better than high school. Think about that. Nothing in your life was ever any better than high school.
It’s not just high school. It could be anything in your life. If you can pick a point in your past that was the best time you ever had, then you should change something in your present or your future. Right now should be the best time you ever had. Make it a never-ending goal to outdo yourself. That doesn’t mean you have to go to dangerous extremes, you just have to find something that fulfills you as much as or more so than whatever you were doing in the past.
Life can always get better than it used to be. If you cling to your past with the conviction that no part of your future can top that time, then no part of your future ever will. You will have become older without having grown.
This past-clingage makes me saddest when it involves me. An old friend will want to reminisce about times gone by. Again, I enjoy the reminiscing, to a point, but when it becomes clear that that person’s life never got any better than that, that’s when I start to become uncomfortable. It’s the pedestal thing, I think. I was a part of something, some time in their life that was truly great. Those were the days. The Greatest Days. When they see me, they are reminded of those, the Greatest of Days. I am a part of their Greatest of Days. Their life has just been a continuation, plodding on with only a memory to sustain them.
But I moved on. I had more great days, even some greater days after that. Those new experiences did not involve that other person. I put that person on no pedestal. Sure, we had some good times together. And sure, I’ll always remember them with a warm-hearted fond glow. But my greatest days are still to come, and they may or may not involve that person. Should I feel bad about that? To me, the other person is a fond memory of my past. To them, I am a pivotal piece of their Long Lost Greatest Time.
This is where my discomfort comes in. Being a part of someone’s Greatest Time Ever is a lot of pressure. They want to talk about it. They want validation that those were the good old days. They want me to agree. “Weren’t those just the best days ever?” “Don’t you wish we could relive those days?” “Doesn’t life suck now that we’re not in that time anymore?” …What am I, as a good friend, supposed to say? Do I lie and say, “yes?” Do I tell them the brutal truth, that the time in their life they believe will top no other was, to me, not all that great in comparison to the things I have done since then?
Clearly I cannot invalidate their Greatest Time, so like a good friend, I lie. I agree that their Greatest Time was also my Greatest Time. I can tell, though, that the most persistent reminiscers do not believe the lie. They want details. They want me to explain precisely how the Greatest Time came to be the Greatest Time, and why it is still the Greatest Time. I cannot provide details because I have none. It isn’t true. It was a good time, but I have no evidence at all that it was the Greatest Time. I don’t believe it. If I did believe it, it would be a depressing Truth to behold. Never any better than that? For all time? I hope I have a good 60 or 70 years left in me. I hope I didn’t waste my Greatest Time Ever already. That would be a whole lot of nothing to look forward to.
Remember the good times. Remember the Great Times. Reserve judgment of the Greatest Time Ever for your deathbed. Hopefully, it will be difficult to choose.