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The Personal Past

Defining “the personal past” is no easy matter. It certainly should not be confused with biography, though that plays some small part. The depth of our personal past does not reach an end with the day of our birth, at least it need not if we choose otherwise. A large fraction of the personal past is filled by genealogy, though certainly it is not just a person’s pedigree. It is more than our DNA. More than the family culture we may have inherited from people not even genetically related: the step-parents, adoptive parents and neighbors of ancestors. More than our ethnic and national traditions. More than how our inherited religious beliefs help to define us.

Local history plays into the personal past, as do the broader currents of history that happen to have impacted the people in our past. Family stories, legends and lies play a role.

The more I have contemplated these things, the more I realize that they have changed my relationship to time. Earlier, I would not even have known what I might mean by that. The way in which one relates to the past itself is part of the personal past.

For me the personal past is part of the answer to the existential questions “why am I?” and “why am I me?” There is also the epistemological question, “what can I even know about why I am me?” That too, its own limit, is part of the personal past.

As thoroughly based on recorded facts and logic as the personal past should be, it is also a sublime inner experience, an intertwining of fact, myth and self.

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