Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Past and the Future

Going back to Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, another thing that only really becomes apparent late in the series is how annoying linear time is, at least for the villain. We all know how that works: the past has already happened and cannot be changed; the future is unknown and affected by the events that come before it. And it was both of those facts that created a problem for Precia, the primary villain of the series.

Decades before the events of the actual series itself, Precia had an important research position and a daughter named Alicia. That said, though, she was conducting illegal experiments, and in true mad scientist illegal experiment fashion, those experiments ended in a catastrophe. When the dust settled, she was exiled from the city and her daughter was dead. That was her past, the events that came before.

But then, what future became of that chaos? With Alicia gone, Precia descended into madness. She chased after myths and legends in an effort to change what had come before, in a manner that promised yet more harm and suffering to anyone nearby. Essentially, Precia chose to ignore the future, to change her future by reclaiming her past rather than by moving forward. And it was that desire that created all of the problems in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha.

There are people much like her in the world today. There are those who look at their past and see nothing but regret, nothing but events that need to be changed. Unlike Precia, they usually aren’t villains that end up causing more harm, but they share her anguished lament of “This wasn’t how it was supposed to be!” For better or for worse, it is a reaction to loss and sorrow.

But it can be carried too far. The past will not change, no matter how much one laments on what could have been different. As Crono Harlaown, one of Nanoha’s allies in that final battle, put it, nothing’s ever the way it’s supposed to be. Nothing is ever perfect, and anyone who wants to find only what could have been done differently will be paralyzed for months, doing nothing but regretting the mistakes they’ve made.

What, then, can we do? How can we balance learning from the past with having a positive effect on the future? No one should become completely consumed by taking back their mistakes. We will all make them, and we can’t demand of anyone that they put things back to the way they were. Sometimes, such a restoration back to the original order will be impossible, as it was for Precia.

We cannot change the past, and we cannot always reclaim it. Because of that, we need to focus on what we can change. When mistakes are made, we can’t look to the past and try to reclaim the world before those errors. We need to look ahead. Move ahead, to the future that is shaped by the events that come before. The events of the past will remain in place, so all we can do is look to the future and create those events that will bring about a better one.

Precia had her attention fixed on the past. She stated, “I’m going to change what was, and create a brand new future for me and Alicia!” I find that statement more than any other to be a contradiction. She may have wanted a different future, but she didn’t pay it any mind. She was devoted to changing the past, not the future. The problem was not in the events of her past but rather in herself.

Statements like that have no place in the creation of the future. A fixation on the regrets of the past is no help in forging a better future. We may not be able to change the events of the past, but we can change and shape the events of the future. And thus, it is on that future that our attention must fall.

The choice is one presented to anyone who has ever lost something, whether it be a few hours of play time from forgetting to save before quitting all the way up to the people that are important to us. We can fixate on that loss, and pine for what was. With some lesser events, we can try to exactly recreate what we lose, as one could with a video game. We can allow our own lives, and reality as a whole, to lapse in our grief over what is no longer there.

Or we can take that loss and build a new future even with it. We can play the game again, not caring for what exactly happened the first time but enjoying the second no less. We can fondly remember our losses yet move forward with our lives anyway, learning and changing from the events around us and doing what we think is important. Those losses and that past will always be with us, and shouldn’t be ignored. But they do not deserve our entire focus.

I know what I would prefer when I leave this world, as I no doubt will one day. That could happen tomorrow; it could be a hundred years in the future. But when I do, I would not want to see the people around me overly devastated by grief. I would not want to be completely forgotten. If I could, I would want to see those around me remembering yet moving on. Looking to the future even with the losses of the past.

Again in the words of Crono, we can choose to run away from reality, or we can face it head on. We can take our losses and mistakes of the past and make them part of our future. We can choose to not let our grief and regret rule our future, but rather make them a part of our future. We can carry the past, which will remain unchanged, and look to the future, which can be changed.

To create a better future, to truly do what Precia was trying to do in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, both the past and the future will be important. The past will inevitably be part of our future, but so too will our decisions and our outlook be important. And as long as only one of those can be changed, then I know what I’ll focus on. Not the past, as Precia chose, but the future.

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