Looking forward to the past

In search of sepia

To describe hindsight as a luxury doesn’t do hindsight justice.

It’s that elusive, deferred benefit we all crave, the one offering psychological distance from the intractable problems that plague the human race. It’s  home to the armchair quarterback with a bum shoulder, the politician with a tell-all book to sell, and the retired safecracker who got caught doing that “one last job.” It’s the place where the fish gets bigger, the hero gets more heroic, and everything is worth it in the end.

Hindsight illuminates those alternative perspectives we couldn’t see at the moment. It separates us from our actions, often foolish, sometimes brilliant. It can justify, clarify, and celebrate our decisions. It can soothe our regrets, blur our mistakes, and help us rewrite our narratives. It’s a warm, fuzzy cape that cloaks our harshest memories in flat, two-dimensional stills.

If we’re lucky, those two-dimensional stills are black & white prints, signifying a problem long-ago resolved. Sepia tone is even better — those issues seem incomprehensible a century after the fact. These days, hindsight lingers in “the cloud” as we experience a fraught and furious present animated by moving pictures that are vivid, loud, and often misleading.

As the modern-day university confronts student unrest ignited by the world’s most heinous geopolitical horrors, we long for the luxury of hindsight.

It can’t get here soon enough.
(Lead image of John Sinclair seated next to an ironing board is by Magdalena Arndt, courtesy of U-M’s Bentley Historical Library.)


  1. Robert Lerner - 1976

    We live in controversial times and the current unrest on college campuses is certainly reminiscent of the Vietnam era protests. I understand it is controversial, but it is obvious that as an alumnus who is interested in what is going on in and around UM campuses, your newsletter has totally avoided dealing with this issue. Political pressure from administration limiting reporting of the new?

    Like on many campuses, there is currently an encampment of about 20 tents on the Diag. Blocking one of the entrances to the Diag is a giant banner that reads “LONG LIVE THE INTIFADA”. How about reporting on how the University is complicit in its tolerance of hate speech and minority discrimination threats.


  2. James Isaacson - 1981

    Our administration is a disgrace. Allowing hate is not freedom of speech, death to America is not freedom of speech flying terrorist flags etc. There is right and wrong and our government and administration has failed. Remove the banner suspend permanently the protesters and wake up. Our institution just got an ‘F’. I am embarrassed and used to be so proud to be a Michigan Wolverine.


Leave a comment: