"The past steps on the heels of the present, whether you like it or not," exclaims Sarah in Sarah, Plain and Tall. She is, of course, referring to how Jacob must deal with his past in order to move forward in his present. By trying to bury the past, he is actually clinging onto it. Sarah helps him to reconnect with his memories of the past and to remember their joys so that he can no longer be burdened by their pain. So that his children, too, can have the wholeness of being able to remember their mother even though she is gone.
The present is where we live now. And the future is for what we plan. The past, then, is what influences our present--and our future, too, I suppose, in so far as the actions we choose in the present affect our future. So it is interesting when we hear the warning not to live in the past. This is true: the only place we can actually live is the present, so it's best that we accept that. But a healthy relationship with the past includes an understanding of how the past affects the present, no?
In our example above, Jacob had fond memories of his wife. Anna had fond memories of her mother. And those were good things--things that could help inspire their characters in a positive way in the present. Anna, in particular, receives great comfort at being able to remember the mother she lost when she was so young. Being able to talk about what she does remember gives her stability in her present. She knows that loss can happen in the blink of an eye again, but she also knows that nothing can take away the good memories she cherishes with those she loves.
It follows in all sorts of ways--that concept of the past's influence on the present. A doctor is able to perform his role because of the time he spent in the past in school and in his residency. A child works to get a good grade because he knows from the past that his parents celebrate with him when he does. That's the past, present, and future all entangled into one. You see, it's learning from our past that teaches us to consider our future in the actions we take in the present. That's The Lion King, isn't it? Rafiki hitting Simba with his staff to show him that the past can still hurt but we can choose to learn from it--thereby prompting Simba to take action and return home to heal the wounds of the past.
The only place where we can live is the present. And yet it is all quite a tangled web with the past and future, anyway, isn't it?