No Visible Trace: Vanishing of the Past

Photograph © 2019 Peggy Kornegger
I seem to be living through a time in which everything previously experienced in my life is falling away. In the midst of these changes, I find myself standing face to face with a truth that has always existed but is now front and center in my consciousness: There is no past. When we have lived an experience, it disappears from this dimension. It may continue in another dimension, but here, now, in the present, it quite literally no longer exists. In our memories, it shape-shifts and eventually fades as well. We are left with this moment, nothing else.

What has brought me to this seemingly stark conclusion, which is actually quite liberating? Well, in the past month (and after I wrote my last blog, “Resignation or Surrender?”), I experienced the definitive “loss” of two homes that I felt great emotional attachment to: one in Illinois, the other in Massachusetts. The first was my childhood home (on five acres in the country), the second, the house I lived in before recently moving (where I had an extensive flower garden). No actual visits took place; this was a long-distance visual vanishing, via photographs and Google maps. But no less shocking.

The people who bought the house where we rented an apartment in Massachusetts quickly began to renovate the interior last fall. Then, this past spring, our neighbor told us of exterior changes: the new owners had ripped out all my carefully planted and lovingly cared for flowers and replaced them with a rather bare, professionally landscaped lawn and a few meager plantings. The photographs she sent were heartbreaking.

Since our move to Florida last year, I have missed my garden most of all. I had spent eleven years partnering with Mother Earth in creating a diverse mixture of flowers and bushes that bloomed at different times of the year. I knew every plant as if they were my own “children,” and I felt that they knew me. I celebrated each leaf and blossom, each visit by a bee, butterfly, or hummingbird. Sometimes I just stood in silent appreciation and love for the beauty all around me. To see all that destroyed was painful to assimilate. Yet, on another level, I knew it to be another sign that that time in Massachusetts was done. I could not go back to the home I once knew.

Over the next few weeks, I realized that I was being given a deeper understanding of life’s greatest wisdom: impermanence. It allowed me to see the impermanent in all parts of life—and to accept it. My spiritual journey had become about learning to let go in an ongoing way so that I could be fully present in the moment. Then God raised the bar even higher.

For some reason, I decided to Google-search for my Illinois hometown and the country road I had lived on. It has been decades since I have been back there, so it took me a while to find the area where my parents had built their home in the shade of a group of old oak trees. I switched to satellite mode and began to slowly trace the route from the turnoff onto our road, now widened.

Then, unexpectedly, I noticed that there was a very large highway where there had only been farmhouses and cornfields. I zoomed in and saw it was an Illinois tollway with on and off ramps and barren landscapes surrounding it. My heart beating, I backtracked to where I could see some houses and land still intact. I located the houses on either side of our home, but there in the middle was nothing but wild abandoned land. No driveway, nothing visible but underbrush and trees. I zoomed closer, and then I saw a bare space where our house should have been. Closer still, and I was able to make out what appeared to be remnants of a basement. That’s all that remained of my childhood home.

I felt a knot in my stomach and sat staring in stunned silence. It didn’t seem real. My memories of that house and of the trees, flowers, orchards, and vegetable gardens my father and mother had planted were vivid and alive. I lived my entire childhood and adolescence there—with a deep connection to nature and to them. Yet this was the current “reality.” Anything else no longer existed. Of course I knew this, but seeing a visual representation was different.

After my parents’ deaths, I had stopped visiting Illinois but always held it in my heart. Christmas carols evoked visual memories of the holidays I shared with them over the years. And the land itself was in my blood; I had run across the fields and climbed every tree. Years later, when I planted a garden in Massachusetts, I felt most at home there because that connection was born in my childhood. Now, every visible trace of any of those gardens had disappeared. My childhood and my recent past had both vanished.

I sensed my physical body slowly processing this and my soul’s presence rising to the fore. I felt a clearing within to match the clearing without. For the first time, I was fully embodying the present moment with a crystal clear understanding that there really is nothing else. Oddly enough, it felt freeing. It was like decluttering my consciousness: dropping Google and opting for Soul. In truth, I hadn’t lost anything. I had gained greater awareness of the simplicity and power of my lifetime upon this Earth. At the deepest level, my soul (and yours) lives within the Great Mystery of impermanence and eternity, each precious moment experienced and then released with love.

“When the house is gone, the space in the house was not different than the space outside the house. When those walls are gone, there’s only one space everywhere. There always was only one space.”—Krishna Das

6 thoughts on “No Visible Trace: Vanishing of the Past

  1. So intense. I could feel the suspense as you used Google maps to zoom in on your childhood home. It reminded me of the movie, Lion, when Saroo found his home in the same way. After viewing the film, I Googled where my father lived in Kiev (now part of Russia). I was able to narrow it down to the general vicinity, and that brought up so many emotions. Our connections to the past are intriguing and mysterious, and often clarify our present moment, as you so elegantly describe. Thank you for writing and sharing!

  2. Very well put, especially the summary part.. of letting go of the nothingness that we offer experience in a structured manner of names, places or things! Thank you for sharing!!

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