Hindsight: Beginnings and Endings and the persistence of fuzzy caterpillars

“It’s easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends.”


Perhaps it is the changing times.

Perhaps in the 1960s, when Joan Didion penned those words, it really was easy to see the beginnings.

And perhaps it was then, as Didion herself said, that they were just beginning to find that the center to which they had clung was not holding, that the beginnings were spinning out control.

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer”, wrote Yeats, quoted Didion, repeated You.

But You repeat this with an uncertainty, a hesitation that reverberates throughout the gyre in which we all now stand.

The gyre is now all there is.

You were born here. Your generation knows only a mythic semblance of  what your parents called the falconer.

And what you really what to say is that perhaps there never was a falconer. Perhaps the parameters of the gyre were always unknown. Perhaps the beginnings never were easy to see.

All You know is that neither beginning nor end makes sense to You.

Both ends of this string (for you are told that you should be able to stretch it out in a line) are knotted and frayed.

You think back to grade 9 history classes (the same ones where you learned about moral decay in 16th century France and were told to sit up straight and neaten your skirt hems and be a woman of tomorrow). Your teacher, a stern, venerable matriarch of the all-girls school, told You to always—absolutely always—be sure to mark both ends of a timeline with an arrow, because we can never fully ascertain all of the antecedents and all of the repercussions of any single event.

“Hind sight is a fascinating thing”, the psychiatrist, or school principle, or lover says when you tell them that it all seems so different to you now, compared to how it seemed then.

You nod. Yes, yes, hindsight is a fascinating thing.

And you look out the window onto the car park below, where the vehicles move as if in a time lapse and the people walking in single file along the footpath look like a procession of hairy catapillars, and for a moment you are in the backyard of your childhood, gaping at the undulating caterpillar bodies, the line that seemed to have neither head nor tail; If it weren’t for the silken trail that shows the direction they’d come from you’d think they were going nowhere. (“Derealisation”, says the psychiatrist; “excuses”, says the school principle; “lies”, says the lover).

And you think of how it’s impossible to tell what is hindsight and what is happening here and if any of it matters any more or less. You don’t trust either.

You’ve read about cultures that have different concepts of time: of the Hopi who have no tenses for past, present, and future, for whom there is no division in time; of the Ongee who experience time and space as scent, shifting and changing as scent wafts upon the seasonal winds; of ritualistic destruction of momentos in order to remember; Of the multiple temporalities in traumatic stress; of false memories.

Sometimes you don’t know if you’ve actually read these things or if you still will. Sometimes you think you’ve made it all up so that later you’ll remember your own lies with perfect accuracy.

What you do know is it is not easy to see the beginning, nor is it easy to see the ends.

Sometimes you think that when people talk of beginnings, they really mean the time when things were easier. It was easier to see in the beginning, You’ll say, like the beginning is not simply an opinion.

It is easy to see the beginnings, you say

You can see You are wrong, through the clairvoyance of hindsight.