“To move forward clinging to the past is like dragging a ball and chain. The prisoner is not the one who has committed a crime, but the one who clings to his crime and lives it over and over. We are all guilty of crime, the great crime of not living life to the full. But we are all potentially free. We can stop thinking of what we have failed to do and do whatever lies within our power.” — Henry Miller, Sexus: The Rosy Crucifixion I
Cleaning out some old files recently, I came across an old letter I’d received from a woman I’d once dated. It was the last communication I’d ever had with her, and the only letter she’d ever written to me, stuck inside a funny greeting card. Reading it again for the first time in a few decades, I smiled at the memories and returned the letter to the box it was stored in. Perhaps I’ll stumble upon it again in a few decades more. It’s nothing more than a time stamp of who we both once were.
I know another woman who married the man of her dreams. That groom decided that he hadn’t married the woman of his dreams and they separated. He moved on with his life, she never did, and clings to the illusion of who she once was. She never had children, never met another life partner, and is forever in limbo. Friends and family can’t shake her loose from the illusions of the past. She’s a lovely person who inadvertently became a cautionary tale for the rest of us.
Do you wonder what memories of today will stumble back into your mind in a few decades time? What will we cling to, and what will fade away? Are we like farmers, perpetually working the same land, or hunter-gatherers, endlessly moving forward towards something new? We’re a bit of both, aren’t we? Perhaps the better analogy is a weight-lifter. Each lift breaks something down within us but may strengthen us over time. If we were to forever carry that weight we wouldn’t go very far at all.
I mentioned before on this blog that I gave both of my adult children Some Lines a Day journals for Christmas, that they might have moments like the greeting card moment I had, but every day going forward. The trick is to regularly write down what was important in any given day. It forces you to observe, but also creates desire to do something worth writing down. The magic comes in subsequent years, when you can look back on what you did on that day and compare it to who you’ve become. May it be growth.
We can’t live in the past, but we can surely use our days to build a strong foundation, that we may reach higher in our days to come. The people who come and go from our lives, the people we ourselves once were and never will be again, are all memories of a lifetime. They ought to be building blocks, not a ball and chain, and not nails in our coffin. Growth is nothing more than learning who to be next. We’re all just figuring this life out, aren’t we? It’s okay to hold on to memories, but shed the past and go be who’s next. I bet it will be quite a character.