In the following passage, Victor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, explores a difference between the young and the old—between those with endless possibilities still ahead, and those with actualized experiences of the past.
“For as soon as we have used an opportunity and have actualized a potential meaning, we have done so once and for all. We have rescued it into the past wherein it has been safely delivered and deposited. In the past, nothing is irretrievably lost, but rather, on the contrary, everything is irrevocably stored and treasured. To be sure, people tend to see only the stubble fields of transitoriness but overlook and forget the full granaries of the past into which they have brought the harvest of their lives: the deeds done, the loves loved, and last but not least, the sufferings they have gone through with courage and dignity. From this one may see that there is no reason to pity old people. Instead, young people should envy them. It is true that the old have no opportunities, no possibilities in the future. But they have more than that. Instead of possibilities in the future, they have realities in the past—the potentialities they have actualized, the meanings they have fulfilled, the values they have realized—and nothing and nobody can ever remove these assets from the past.”
Whether we realize it or not, every day we’re making deposits into the storehouse of the past. We’re trading possibilities for realities, turning what-could-be into what-has-been. And sometimes, if we look closely, we’ll find treasures there that are only visible in hindsight—treasures that, regardless of the cost, can never be taken away.