Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Putting the Past in its Place

Occasionally someone will tell me they "drove through the old neighborhood." Or a family member will want to drive by "the old house."

If it seems important to them I'll go along but it makes me uncomfortable. I'm just not all that interested in looking back. That may have something to do with moving a fair amount as a kid and not really being attached to places in the way that a lot of other people are. But I think it's also just my attitude about life. You see, I"m only really interested in going forward so unless there is something strategic that can be accomplished in a walk down memory lane.

Legitimate reasons to bask in the past: 

There may be unfinished business there and things that need to be dealt with because they are impacting your current well being.

It may be a time of reminiscing with family members or friends and strengthening connections with them.

You may be using something in your past to help you mark how far you've come in some area.

When it might be doing you more harm than good: 

When you are reliving (and dare I say wallowing in) some past painful trauma for any other reason than to try to move beyond it.

When you are longing for a time that you remember being much better than your current life and better than you imagine your future to be.

When you would actually prefer going back to some time in the past instead of looking ahead to the rest of your life. 

What to do instead:

I was with my mother recently in the hospital and she said that she wished she could go back to the time in her life when she was happiest when we were small and lived in her home state. I thought about how I feel about my own life and realized that while I loved having my own children at home and teaching them, I am always excited to see what their next adventure will be. I'm also excited about my own future and the things I plan on doing.

It's okay for the past to tug at your heartstrings once in a while and to remember happy times, but make sure the tugging doesn't morph into dragging.  Life is much like the change of seasons. Each season has its own particular beauty and rewards to look forward to. If you really miss a time in your life and wish you could relive it, find a younger person who is in that season now and share what you know about it with them. Pay that wisdom forward and invest it in someone else instead of longing for past days.

Don't let uncertainty about the future keep you paralyzed and fearful. If your kids are grown and you worry about what might happen next, remember that when they were born you were terrified. When they were small you were worried. Then they were teenagers you lost sleep fretting. If you are caught up in those feelings again, remember that you survived all that uncertainty and chaos. That's a good lesson for going forward.

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