Respice Futurum: The Future Doesn’t Help

Every year I compose a reflective piece entitled “Respice Futurum” describing the books I plan to read in the new year. As I’ve explained in previous posts, the institution where I have had the privilege of teaching Latin and Classics for many years now is one of the oldest secondary schools in the United States and has this simple yet profound Latin motto which reflects and respects this tradition: Respice Futurum–-translated literally as “Look back at your future.” Using this motto has always been a fitting way for me to think about and discuss reading plans for the new year since my previous literary patterns help to shape what I will read moving forward. It seems wise that our past should be taken into consideration when we plan for the future, so it’s a good way, really, to think about and frame any future plans, not just those that involve reading.

But this year I feel untethered, like a woman with no future, or at least a highly uncertain one. A personal tragedy has destroyed my previous life and has forced me to start over. Every day feels like an attempt to slowly rebuild my life from the foundation up—one small, agonizing step at a time.

And when the past is gone—my past feels more definitively gone now—what do I look back to for guidance towards and reassurance of the future? The present is all that exists for me, it is all I can focus on—taking care of my daughter and pets, making my home as safe and comfortable for us as possible, wrapping the Christmas gifts I got for family and friends. I realize all of these short-term things will come to an end—Christmas will be over, I can only make so many repairs/changes to my home, and my daughter needs me less and less as she gets older. Then what? I ask myself every day: then what?

Reading a poem entitled “Tangerine” by Robert Kelly yesterday—an especially low day for me—gave me some comfort:


The past spoils now
and the future
doesn’t help. I want
this simple thing, this
tangerine of the moment
to peel and pull apart and taste
segment by segment, each
in all its sweetness,
and chew the soft pulp of it
after and after, and it still
will be now.

And so I guess it’s not such a bad thing that I take one day, one hour, one minute at a time. Savoring, appreciating, taking in all the sweetness that the present has to offer. A dear friend also reminded me recently of the importance of this in a note that brought tears to my eyes, “To have a spouse, to keep a house, to raise a child–these are vast gifts of our humanhood. They do not last, but they should be treasured all the more for that.”


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23 responses to “Respice Futurum: The Future Doesn’t Help

  1. Thank you for this, Melissa. I’ve shared your blog post on Facebook and will be thinking of you and your daughter during the holidays:

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This will be difficult Christmas, no doubt. Try to create a new tradition for yourself and Claire (and the four-footed crew). And know that this year as the pandemic looms large, it will be a different holiday season for so many in North America and around the world—you won’t be alone as you find your way through the sorrows and the joys.

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  3. It will be hard for you as the year ends, Melissa, I’m sure – but know that you are loved, not only by those close to you but also by those who encounter you in the ether. I think you are wise to take things a day at a time or even in smaller packets – this pandemic has made many of us deal with life like that. Having Claire and your lovely animals with you will help – and as Joe says, creating new traditions and memories is important. x

    Liked by 1 person

  4. One of the things that makes Christmas hard for anyone who’s grieving is the relentless portrayal of The Perfect Christmas in the media. It makes it worse if you think that everyone else is having a wonderful time. The reality is different. It’s a very stressful time for a lot of people. One of the saddest Christmases I know about is a woman whose marriage was breaking up and she told her kids aged 8 and 10 that they weren’t going to do Christmas because it would be horrible anyway. (I would have had them at my place in a heartbeat, of course, but I didn’t know).
    Try not to worry about Christmases of the future. Our Christmases have changed over time, especially after the deaths of our parents, but we’ve adapted and still find ways to enjoy it. And you will too.

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  5. Danielle Giamundo

    Melissa, I love the perspective you have brought forth in your post.
    I remember one Christmas season when my husband suddenly lost his job and his mother was dying of cancer. I had no idea what the future held for us and I was stuck between caring for my husband, caring for my two young children ages 5 and 9 – who were very much excited for Christmas – and feeling my own despair and sadness. Looking around, I felt as if the world was having a party and I wasn’t invited. I found myself in an impromptu business of making and selling Christmas cookies. The simple act of mixing sugar, eggs and flour created a distraction for me that I had not anticipated. Then hearing the appreciation and accolades from my customers washed me over with a new sense of purpose. Oddly, it was both a season of loss, but also one of re-birth. Even though the hole in your heart will never close, there will always be more to savor around the bend.
    Wishing you find unexpected joy this holiday season, and in the new year around the bend.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Wise words from Lisa. Trying to take things a day at a time seems the best way forward. We’ve never met, but I’ve often thought of you over the past months, Melissa. Your gorgeous Christmas tree somehow symbolises the valiant, open spirit with which you’ve coped with this most difficult of years xx

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  7. I know this season is going to be hard Melissa, but your wonderful fighting spirit will see you through, I have no doubt xx

    Liked by 2 people

  8. May you and your daughter experience peace during this festive season. My thoughts are with you…

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Melissa, I ache for you. I can only say that your past will always live within you, within your memories. My parents, who are gone, still live within me, and I treasure my memories of them, especially when I am with my granddaughter, a girl they never got to see. You never lose your past. It’s your future that has been shaken up and you have the ability to shape your future. And you are doing just that, right now, step by step. It might not feel that way to you right now, but one day you will look back and be amazed at what you did in this moment.


  10. Vishy

    Thank you for this post, Melissa. It made me cry. Loved the poem you shared. Also loved what your friend said to you. Beautiful Christmas tree. Sending you and Claire lots of love and hugs.


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