Marcus Aurelius, considered as one of the most important stoic philosophers, was a Roman Emperor, who ruled the kingdom from 161 AD to 180 AD. One of his best quotes summarises the very essence of life when he writes: “Soon you’ll be ashes or bones. A mere name at most and even that is just a sound, an echo. The things we want in life are empty, stale, trivial.”

It is said that if one wants to understand life the best place to meditate is at the cemetery. It is a mystic experience that instead of captivating you with a gloom leads you a calming effect as you start meandering among the gravestones.

Fluctuating between threshold of existence and non-existence, the maddening noise around us are diffused among the stillness of the resting souls. Rich or poor, powerful or powerless, known or unknown, all the lives come down in the end to a resting place, making us differentiate between what is true and lasting from what is transient, and of insignificant importance.

My regular visits to the graveyard started just few years down the road. Within a span of three years, I lost both my parents. My father fought with cancer, while my mother, trying to outsmart my father in whatever race towards invisibility, had both cancer and Alzheimer’s. Unlike my father, she defeated cancer, but could not fight the loss of memory. Does this really make a difference; for in the end, we all die of loss or sheer abundance of memories? As the Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami, puts it in his book titled “Kafka on the Shore”: “Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.”

The real question, however, pertains to how much of present we live in before it becomes part of our memory. The past looks beautiful because we somehow never truly realise an emotion in the present. As the time passes, our present transforms into past, thus denying ourselves the beauty of living a life in the moment. It sounds really strange how we tend to cherish and hold on to the pieces of the past while waiting for the future, thus ending up in denying ourselves of living in the present.

The real problem, however, with memories is their inherent attribute of not letting one forget. As poetess Sarah Blackstone puts it:

“Imagine if I was given one moment,

just a single slice of my past.

I could hold it close forever,

and that moment would always last.

I'd put the moment in a safe,

within my hearts.”

Memories simply fly things away, keep or hide things from you, but, in the end, sum up all and hit you with a ravishing force. We tend to believe that we have memories; in reality, the memories possess us. As Oscar Wilde said: “We degenerate into hideous puppets, haunted by the memory of the passions of which we were much afraid, and the exquisite temptations that we had not the courage to yield to.”

There is nothing wrong as long as we realise that our past continues to affect who we are while living in the present and treasuring every step we take towards infinity. We can only grow as people if we choose to confront our past, instead of dissolving ourselves in it. That is the only way we can move forward in our lives.

The writer is a PhD in Information Technology, alumni of King’s College

London and a social activist. He is life member of the Pakistan Engineering Council and senior international editor for IT Insight Magazine. He has authored  two books titled Understanding Telecommunications and Living In The Grave and several research papers.