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The past is a foreign country, they say, but that's not what I've experienced. I've crossed my fair share of borders over the years, and not a one of them has led me to the past, any more than it has to the future. Go through passport control and past baggage pickup, and on the other side it's all just the present again, dressed out of H&M and eating at McDonald's, talking on iPhones and tweeting.

The converse, though: that is true. Another country is the past, if I stayed in it long enough. I return to the place, and I'm back in the time I lived there. The main street is stuck forever on the snowy day where I met the love of my life. The beach by the castle is always the site of our first date and the bakery is where we went for pastries after the pubs closed. The reality of that history has a cost, too: the people who walk the streets in the present day are ghosts from a world that will never be solid for me. Their stories are ones I will never play a part in.

But my pasts, for all their power, are like villages—even the ones in big cities. Because I didn't know that many people, not really, not even at the time: twenty at my first job, sixty at my co-op, maybe a hundred total from classes in college. And many of those acquaintances were too slight to last, so that when I go back to those times, the populations of my foreign countries are in the dozens and the scores, not the thousands and the millions.

What the past does have, though, is ease: all of the emotions from those days are resolved, or at least diminished. The fires of our quarrels and our loves alike have cooled. Our wenches, as Barabbas would say, are dead. As a result, the past is as simple, or as simplified, as a farm with nine rows of bean plants and a beehive.

By contrast, the present is busy and unpredictable, containing as it does the possibility of new and unexpected encounters. And if each of those meetings is a choice, a branching of the paths of probability, then it's a place as well, just as the past is. And the paths of these futures cross and intersect like streets in a grid, tightly interlaced in the downtowns of our busy days, spreading out to the suburbs of our leisure times, and winding through the darkened forests and the hills of the distant years we cannot yet anticipate.


This has been a nodeshell rescue. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

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