A friend wrote me yesterday to tell me that after many years he had at last picked up the first chapter of a novel I had sent him and wanted to know when I would send him the rest. This had been an unusual novel for me in that it was very autobiographical, which had made it very difficult to write and, in the end, impossible to publish. I loved the story, but was simply too devoted to it in way that is not healthy if you are trying to share something with the rest of the world.
But my friend mentioning it sent me back to have another look at the manuscript. Writers often set a manuscript aside for a few weeks or a few months between drafts so that they might have a fresher perspective during the rewriting. If only we could set manuscripts aside for a few years. Rereading my old novel, I remembered why I had felt so protective of it, but it seemed so silly now. It was just a story.
Time is such a fantastic teacher in this way. It levels all experience like sand. I used to fear Time for this reason. Its indifferent march forward seemed to render all my ambitions meaningless. Time would always win in the end. But Time’s indifferent march forward is in fact its greatest gift to us all.
Life is never about what has happened but what is happening, a fact about which Time reminds us with every single passing moment. Some of our greatest misery comes from believing something that once happened has power over us still. Indeed it cannot unless we allow it to. It’s like standing with our hands in the air because someone on another continent claims to have a pistol pointed our way.
So perhaps I will revisit this old book. It was a story about an event I was certain at the time of the writing had defined me. I still like the story, but I decline the idea that I could ever be defined by anything that has happened. For this to be possible I would have to be frozen in time, and Time will never permit that.