Yesterday, two girls were talking in my classroom after class had ended. The gist of it was this: Helen made Jackie (fake names, of course) promise that Jackie wouldn’t let Helen return her boyfriend’s call if he happened to call later, because she was mad at him (but—deep down—I am sure Helen wished that he would, in fact, call.) I have made similar agreements with my friends: I have a friend who has told me to not let her participate in any more of her daughter’s classroom activities (for reasons I won’t do into here,) and I agreed, but I am not so sure it was a wise move on my part. Who am I to conspire with her current self against her future self?
The reason that the conversation between the two girls stuck in my brain is because this whole concept was already on my mind. Last week, we read a poem (“To the Mercy Killers”) in class about a guy who wants to be kept alive no matter what horrible illnesses or accidents happen to him. Even if he becomes a “screaming pain, a putrefying stench…and beg[s] to die,” he still wants to be kept alive. No matter what, no exceptions.
It’s a very gruesome poem, but I think the concept of making decisions for our future selves is an interesting one.
In THE THINGS THEY CARRIED, something similar happens. Two soldiers, Lee and Dave, make a deal with each other that if either of them is ever is really bad shape, maybe knocking of death’s door, then the other one is supposed to kill the injured man. Of course, that’s exactly what happens…Lee gets his legs blown off on a land mine, and everyone knows death is waiting for him—none too patiently either. Dave is supposed to kill him at this point. That was their deal; that’s the vow they made to each other. However, Lee backs out and doesn’t want Dave to kill him. He wants to live until death steals him away; he doesn’t want to be handed over to death on the proverbial silver platter. I won’t say what happens because I don’t want to ruin the book for anyone, and it really is a book that people should read.
It’s an interesting phenomena that people actually think that they know more now than they will in the future and that they are better equipped to deal with future issues now than they will be when they are older and actually facing whatever the issue is.
Excluding mental illness or addictions that might cloud our judgment, I would hope that each of us is a bit wiser with each passing year. I like to think that I am wiser now than I was five years ago, and I hope the older version of myself is wiser than I am now: I hope.