Understanding Life Backwards

Yesterday, my younger son, his wife and my youngest, previously unseen granddaughter arrived from Zimbabwe.



Conditions in Zimbabwe continue to deteriorate. Political pressure on the few remaining commercial farmers, crime, corruption and deterioration of the infrastructure are all increasing. Unemployment and poverty are huge problems.

They are becoming  concerned that for their safety and the education of their daughter they will have to leave Zimbabwe soon. They have come to Canada for a short holiday and to consider whether a move to this country would be the right decision for them.

Talking to them about our experiences, Sue and I have tried to be objective, tried not to let our generational and experiential biases unduly influence how we express our feelings for life in our new country.

That is a very difficult challenge to overcome.

It reminded me of the quotation by Soren Kiergaard at the top of the page.

Our experiences have created our impressions, coloured our view of life in Canada. We see things through 65-year-old conservatively tinted lenses. Lenses ground by years of fighting for our former country, polished by living most of our lives in a climate that respected individual rights over group rights, with minimal government interference in our lives. Lenses focused by overcoming the adversity of betrayal by allies, being subjected to the rule of a brutal dictator and being dispossessed of our farm, being forced to move to a new country to start again.

We cannot know what that view will look like through the 30 to 40-year-old, more tolerant lenses of our children.

Having lived the various chapters of our lives forward, we have arrived at the point where we can understand them by looking backwards.

Our children have lived fewer chapters that can be understood and have far more future chapters to be lived before those too can be understood. Who can know with any certainty, what will be written in those new chapters?

There are many joys to being parents and grandparents.There are also moments of great pain, when a child gets hurt, physically or emotionally, has career, business or marital difficulties.

And feelings of sadness that although we can look back and understand life, we cannot pass that understanding to our children. We can advise, counsel, recommend, suggest, implore or even command.

But they have to live their lives forward in the best way they can so that they too can look back for their own understanding.

Do you live your life forward and understand it backwards?

Leave a comment with your thoughts.


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  5 comments for “Understanding Life Backwards

  1. Roberta
    May 12, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    Oh WOW!!! I will need to spend some time and thinking to answer that question. Be back soon I hope. I wonder what the best philosophers have to say.

    You got me. Not many people render me speechless or without something to say. But these questions do.

  2. Peter
    May 19, 2015 at 7:27 am

    It’s a question I have puzzled over since my boys became older teenagers.

    How to help them prepare for disappointments, but knowing that they would have to live through them and deal with them themselves to understand them and move on.

  3. May 22, 2015 at 11:46 am

    As you note in some of my short stories, I try to use the past to move forward on a positive note.
    One reason we started the “local Newspaper”, Geneva Shore Report.

  4. June 27, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    Written like a wise and loving father. We see our own parents through a different lens, looking back, too. Understand their worries and their actions better, maybe. I hope that our children are able to leave this world a better place, whatever decisions they make, and whatever the consequences of those decisions are.

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