“Thank God then for all good smells and good sights and good sounds, but what is the good of being attached to them and sitting and turning over their memory and dwelling on the recollections they bring to you, cherishing a sadness for these things which are gone away? Pop and Bonnemaman are dead, and it will never again be the same as being sixteen and eighteen and living at Douglaston on vacations. What a vanity it would be anyway to moan over the happiness of those times because, at eighteen and twenty and twenty-one, while I was active and rushing about after all sorts of things, who can say those were very good or happy years for me when I was full of anger and impatience and ingratitude toward my family to an extent it is horrible to think about now? Then I was proud and selfish and denied God and was full of gluttony and lust. I was so filled with all these things that even now the unhappiness of them does not leave me at all but keeps forcing itself back upon me in thoughts and dreams and movements of anger and desire. I am still full of that same pride and wretchedness which is very strong and very hard to get rid of because of the strength of self-will which weakens love and prayer and resists God.
But all these things were much stronger because I did not resist them at all. Because of them I was very confused and unhappy. So it would be a lie to look back on those as happy days. It is vanity to desire anything that is past because you cannot bring it back again. If pleasure is vanity now, then pleasure in the past is twice as much vanity. The pleasure of making love now is poor enough by itself (that is, without enough love to want to marry the girl, which is not much!), but the pleasure of a first love when you were sixteen: you will never be sixteen again, and you will never be in love again for the first time, and anyway it was fairly silly and certainly not at all satisfactory. As to its injustice—seeing she was married—I think that doesn’t matter, because of my own innocence, anyway. I did not conceive it was possible to do more than declare that I loved her and give her one kiss. The misery afterward was, of course, a luxury. It was all very well and nice, but to want such a stupid kind of thing to happen again would be crazy. Stupid: not the being in love part but all the dramatics and excesses and luxuries of sentiment that surrounded it when the object of my love was on her way to the other side of the earth.
Yet there are many good things to look back on because, before I had my first year at Cambridge, anyway, although I was always full of crazy pride, yet I did love God and prayed to him and was not completely full of sins. So there were good days at Oakham—and at Strasbourg and at Rome and earlier in France and in London on holidays from school. But I think that, even as a child, I was too full of anger and selfishness for me to want to recapture my own childhood at all now! In fact, to want to recapture anything you have had or owned or experienced is a bigger vanity and unhappiness than to want to possess some present good that is before you. And of course, Saint John of the Cross says the memory must be completely darkened as well as the intellect and the will.
It is not really true that I am sentimental about things I remember. That is not it, but I do find them easy and interesting to write about. They come readily and run fast off the pen. For me they have a kind of life and interest. I have been bothered, however, for a long time, wondering just what place they have—what place anything has I write down here.”
~Thomas Merton (Journal Entry – October 1, 1939)