Lord knows I’ve tried on several occasions and in many different entries to write about the value of our pasts. And still, that does not keep me from retracing the same arguments in my mind and wondering whether or not it’s an absolute truth.
And it got me thinking… Does the pain of our past always serve some purpose? Or should we instead be seeking “eternal sunshine of the spotless mind” by deciding to forget?
For those of you who have seen the movie (I highly recommend it by the way), you may already know where this is going...
If it were possible to forget the past, if it we were somehow able to erase the painful memories entirely from our recollection, if we could manage to wake up tomorrow believing it was nothing more than a bad dream who's details we cannot remember – would we? Should we?
Everyone deals with heartache differently. Some of us learn and grow in spite of (or because of) the things that previously hindered us and others harbor negative feelings and emotions until they turn cold. For those of us able to look back and push aside the bitterness and see the bigger picture, even the most tumultuous past can seem like a blessing. If we hadn’t been where we were, surely, we wouldn’t be where we are. But there are still some people who are forever trapped in the past, who cannot help but relive their mistakes time and time again. They cannot go forward. They cannot move on because instead of looking ahead or up, they are forever looking back. They are bound to stumble. I’d like to think there’s a happy medium, but I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum. I know how difficult it is to find the middle ground. It takes a lot of patience and a lot of faith and more than anything it takes time. Healing comes slowly.
For years before I met M, I lived life in the shadow of a past I couldn’t out-run. I decided before I was 21 that I had, had my shot at happiness and had ruined it and I made up my mind that every future attempt at love would fail. And it did! I saw to it. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy that I would not admit to as I sabotaged one relationship after another reminding myself that nothing would repair my broken past. Regardless of the steps I often took in spite of myself to move on, I was too wrapped up in the things I could not change. I couldn’t forgive myself. Even when I thought I was moving on, I was just running in place. And it’s sad to say, but it took facing the demons of my past in the most confrontational way possible before I finally put it in perspective. It took almost losing everything to realize everything I had right in front of me.
It took time. And it was not long before I started to see M for the gift he was intended to be in my life -- a realization I would not have been able to come to had it not been for the contrast with my past. And it brings us back to the same line of reasoning: that we could never appreciate the day without the dark of night and we could never know what is good without first knowing the bad. Yet, for those who have not yet seen the day or stumbled upon the good, it may seem ludicrous. The pain of the past may be nothing more than painful. Yet, there is still hope.
If we can look back even on the bad times and remember some spark of happiness, some shred of a memory when we felt joy, then we have something to look forward to. (Those of you who saw the movie may be remembering that one moment that the main character tries to hang on to, which makes the painful past worth remembering.) If we could just believe that God will not let us settle, that the best is yet to come. If we could pinpoint all the times we were low and God pulled us up. If we could realize the truth: that God hasn’t put us here to punish us or keep us down and that sometimes, down is the only place we can look up from, it would be easier not to look back. It would be easier to see the past as a piece of the puzzle, as a thread in the tapestry. It would be easier to trust that someday we will understand the reasons that have been concealed.
If we don’t remember where we’ve been, how can we know where we’re going? I’m glad I know now. It was a lesson worth learning.