In Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is an aging man, money-tight and with a soul drier than the harshest desert, finding happiness and moral redemption only after meeting the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future.
Most of us will not receive any visit by eerie presences: still, we all risk to see our lives wither away in a hailstorm of irritability and sulking.
Fortunately, there is a way to recover youth and enthusiasm the way of Scrooge: by looking at our inner “ghosts”, the pieces torn from our inner selves one by one by Time itself.
As the years go by, in fact, the constituents of one’s soul lose “sync” with one another. Some parts of the inner being survive as throwbacks to the past, becoming the Past Inner Ghost, “Ego Praeteritus”. Other elements live in the here-and-now, making up the Present Inner Ghost, “Ego Presens”. Others still have their basis in what is yet to come, belonging to the Future Inner Ghost, “Ego Posterus“.
For example, women and cars, fast or slow as they be, provide the best evidence that an important element of our souls does indeed live in the present. In fact, an obvious component of the Ego Presens is the sense of fashion: contemporary in the extreme and constantly a-changing, with wardrobes getting refreshed not just of worn-out items and impossible-to-find (as new) the same stuff of a few years earlier.
Female beauty itself means changing body shapes every decade or so, even if the owners of the proverbially beauty-beholding eyes don’t all die off that often
That is exactly what happens with cars. Look back at the vehicles in the market 20 or 30 years ago, and apart from true “classics”, you will see primitive, ugly boxes of metal, not the sleek lines, inviting quality, and superior engines of today’s automobiles (alas! themselves destined to turn into ugly boxes of metal… by 2027!).
Politics is itself not immune from the “spirit of the times”, the zeitgeist. Big worldwide debates appear to be coming and going, monopolizing it all for a while, then becoming either boring and outdated or boring and obvious (another definition for “being fashionable”?).
In the past century, colonialism, imperialism, protectionism, fascism, communism, democracy and universal suffrage, worries about nuclear war, civil liberties, poverty, the environment: nowadays, “global warming”.
Are we then “Citizens of the Zeitgeist”? Or “Prisoners of Our Times”, with our Ego Presens socially and commercially pressured into “freely” thinking with the consensus and “voluntarily” getting the most up-to-date gadgets?
It’s an altogether different story for musical tastes. For some reason, most people get their melodic preferences cast in stone between the ages of 16 and 25. So if you’re 50 you may have to accept that your preferred music was recorded at least 25 years ago, and is unlikely ever to re-appear in the charts but for a very short time.
That’s an example of what constitutes the Ego Praeteritus, the inner Ghost of the Past. Other instances include lifelong friendships, usually forged by the end of the “teens” years, as anybody that has ever left hometown can attest; and most personal fears including fully-fledged phobias, rooted perhaps in the first 3 or 4 years of one’s life (just like family ties: are all those related, one wonders?).
And of course, we are bound to keep accumulating memories, those images and feelings condensed (and filtered) in an increasingly-heavier baggage capable of influencing all our thoughts and actions.
Worse still: parts of the Ego Praeteritus appear to become lethargic, if not dead altogether, around 16 years of age (as famously quipped by Benjamin Franklin). For instance, the ability to change and embrace innovation; the sense of academic excellence, invariably coinciding with one’s own year of graduation; morality, inevitably going down the drain since the days of one’s own youth; youths themselves, not showing any longer the respect of old to parents and adults in general.
It’s in the Ego Futurus that one can find life instead, in the very dreams that keep us alive.
Those may be the hope of getting to see another day, or of seeing one’s children live long and prosper, or of being able to buy whatever one desires. Whatever their kind, still those are hopes, the last bits of us to die, and without which life would be absolutely pointless.
Hopes and expectations are not only rooted in the future: they belong to it. Fulfillment of one’s desires may be what we think we aspire to, but more often than not, when that happens it strikes as anticlimactic.
No need to be an Apollo astronaut back on Earth or a retiring World Leader to ask oneself that most open-ended, unsettling, and desperate of questions: “now what?”. A question that we will all have to face.
As times goes on, and dreams come to materialize (or fail to), one’s Ego Posterus can only fade. In the meanwhile, the Ego Praeteritus grows bigger. More and more of one’s inner self gets anchored to the past, resulting in a progressive larger detachment from the “real world”, and from one’s slowly disappearing Ego Presens.
This may be the strongest sign of having an elderly mind: when the soul is left with almost no connection with the present, or the future.
Sadly, that’s a well-traveled path, with one slowly but steadily growing “grumpy”, stagnatingly aged in spirit instead of just old in body.
How can one avoid such an end?
Perhaps some good memory erasure would help. There would be plenty of space to learn new musical tastes and how to become a different person.
A more practical way may be to become instead aware that parts of the soul do not live in the same epoch as the rest of them, or the World out there.
Accepting all internal differences on a temporal level too, we can then confront our Egos of the past, present and future, day-in, day-out, in an unrelentingly rejuvenating “time travel of the soul”.
In fact, it’s the Christmas Ghosts that bring back grumpy extraordinaire Ebenezer Scrooge to a happier life, better connected to the world out there and at peace with what went before, what is happening now and what is yet to come.