The past has passed. We cannot go back | Lloyd E. Sheaffer

The discordant B-minor guitar music continues behind the disembodied voice as a shadowy figure swirls through a spinning maze: “You’re traveling through another dimension . . . You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into… ‘The Twilight Zone.’”

Thus begins an episode of the classic 1950s TV program, “The Twilight Zone.”

In one particular episode, “No Time Like the Past,” a man tries to escape the trials and travails of modern 20th century life—think world wars, atomic bombs, cold wars—by journeying to an earlier period, in hopes of undoing history to bring about a less challenging future. Alas, he finds his chimerical time travel trip a futile endeavor. You cannot change the present or the future by living in the past.

I bring up this episode now because it seems that many of our leaders—political and “non-political” alike—want to return to and live in the past, to drag our nation and our people back to an era when liberties and choices for anyone other than rich white men were curtailed. 

The coterie of ultraconservatives and its bloviating leader during the previous presidential term made no secret of their intent to undo as many progressive actions taken during the eight Obama years.

Health care, immigration, climate change, racial justice—all were on the proverbial chopping block. Had the alt-right axe been successful in beheading these initiatives, we could have found ourselves and our families and neighbors thrown back to the pearl- and fedora-adorned “Leave It to Beaver” land of the 1950s.

 Recent U.S. Supreme Court pronouncements will engender a future pinned in the past.

Colleges and universities are likely enroll more fat-cat, rich-daddy/mommy, legacy frat boy/sorority girl types than promising, creative, intellectual individuals who might hold solutions and answers to the predicaments facing our world.

In particular, women are being cast to the past, to a time when their only choice was no choice.

Women facing difficult medical decisions with limited—or no—trustworthy, safe services might feel as alienated and detached as the companionless woman in Edward Hopper’s 1927 painting Automat, who might find herself venturing down one of the dark alley’s outside the cafeteria in search of “medical assistance.”

Local school boards also have devolved into “now vs. then” conflicts. An outrageous number of groups, 165 in fact, have launched campaigns against critical race theory in schools.

“What the anti-CTR movement [is afraid of] most is white youth learning about the horrors of global white supremacy and saying, Woah, white people did that?’” reporter Ny Magee writes.

These groups working to hijack truthful school curricula would rather go back to an earlier point in history that whitewashed the realities of slavery or ignored the atrocities committed against indigenous people, for instance. 

The White Supremacist movement is growing and continues to threaten our nation’s peaceful existence. It is not unbelievable to think the prejudiced, violent members of the National Socialist Movement or the American Identity Movement or the Patriot Front would welcome a return to the 50s — both 1850s and 1950s — when Black people lived lives of slavery or second rate lives of limited educational, social, and economic opportunities. 

Or worse: “You wanna die? Come on in. 9mm with your name on it” shouted by a white supremacist at a Black Lives Matter rally in Knoxville, TN. Such a yawp could easily have been heard at the lynching of Jesse Washington in 1916 or Emmett Till in 1955, the “good old days.”

Book banners are another bevy of malcontents who prefer a return to a time when children sat in straight rows, raising their hands to give rote answers to yes/no or true/false questions.

It seems, like their book-burning forbears, they do not want their children exposed to subject matters that make children think or question. Their efforts to limit what kiddos can read might be a reflection of their own discomfort or inability to discuss tough topics with their offspring. Or perhaps these forbidders worry that their children might turn out to become something different than what they had hoped them to be.

I propose a common element in these turns to a past way of life is fear. The current “majorities” fear losing what they feel they deserve. They fear if current “minorities” receive what they deserve, there will be less for the current holders of the lion’s share.

They view life as a zero-sum game; if “they” have more, “we” have less. 

To me, that is an outdated perspective on life. My experiences over three quarters of a century have shown me that when we expand our thinking, when we engage a variety of people and experiences different from us, when we challenge the status quo, when we ask “What if?” or “Why not?” our lives become fuller and more fulfilling.

“Unreasoning prejudices are bred out of the continual living in the past,” as noted by American author and New Thought philosopher Prentice Mulford might explain so much of today’s partisan thinking and intolerant, thuggish behavior.

“We should not look back unless it is to derive useful lessons from past errors, and for the purpose of profiting by dearly bought experience,” proffered none other than our nation’s forefather President George Washington. We should not strive to live in the past, only to learn from the past.

Or maybe even better is the realization by Paul Driscoll, the protagonist of the cited “The Twilight Zone” episode, who, after his misbegotten venture, tells his wife that the past is sacred and belongs to those who are native to it, that instead of continuing to fixate upon the past, he will now try to do something to positively impact the future.

The past has passed. We cannot go back.

Let’s join Paul in his forward looking pursuit.

Originally published at,by Lloyd E. Sheaffer

Comments are closed.