William Faulkner from Requiem for a Nun, Act I Scene III


Greg Iles on The Past

Einstein said the arrow of time flies in only one direction.  Faulkner, being from Mississippi, understood the matter differently.  He said the past is never dead; it's not even past.  All of us labor in webs spun long before we were born, webs of heredity and environment, of desire and consequence, of history and eternity.  Haunted by wrong turns and roads not taken, we pursue images perceived as new but whose provenance dates to the dim dramas of childhood, which are themselves but ripples of consequence echoing down the generations.  The quotidian demands of life distract from this resonance of images and events, but some of us feel it always.

And who among us, offered the chance, would not relive the day or hour in which we first knew love, or ecstasy, or made a choice that forever altered our future, negating a life we might have had?  Such chances are rarely granted.  Memory and grief prove Faulkner right enough, but Einstein knew the finality of action.  If I cannot change what I had for lunch yesterday, I certainly cannot unmake a marriage, erase the betrayal of a friend, or board a ship that left port twenty years ago. 

And yet ... today ....

Greg Iles, from Natchez, Mississippi, wrote the above quotation in his 1999 best-seller book The Quiet Game.233  There is so much wisdom, truth, and angst in those two paragraphs I can't let them go.  The sentences haunt me.  Somewhere in there is why I have been working on this family history for fifteen years. 

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Holland site Published 10 July 1996  ~   This page added 24 August 2011   ~   Last updated 10 March 2014