Escaping the Past to Embrace the Future

“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

      Parenting in the Pew, A Rhinoceros Wakes Me Up in the Morning, Making Your Kids Mind Without Losing Yours, Miss Mary Bobo’s Cookbook, The Glycemic Load, Food as Medicine, Practical Paleo, E², The Submission, 2014 Writer’s Market.  The books on the shelf remind me of who I was and who I am.  I wonder what books will be added helping to shape who I will become.  The first books in the list were important to me when I was a young mother, and some were important to me when I was less concerned about my diet.  The later titles are those that appeal to me today, reflecting a healthier eater, a more well-rounded thinker, and a hopeful writer.  My life is not the same today as it was yesterday, nor am I the same person.  At some point, today’s thoughts will also be a part of the past.

     When Alice began to explain her adventures to the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon, she recognized what some of us take a lifetime to realize:  going back to how things used to be is of no use, because we were different people then.  A butterfly can’t go back to being a caterpillar, a frog can’t return to be a tadpole, dogs can’t revert to puppies, and while humans might seem child-like in old age, they cannot return to being a newborn.

      How different are you today from a year ago, five years ago, fifty years ago?  Think for a minute about how you might have locked yourself into who you don’t really want to be, and how you might use your past to propel you to who you are becoming. Have you ever looked in the mirror and thought ‘who are you?’  Look at that face in the mirror.  Those eyes are holding your truth, and a little self-talk might be in order.

    Betty was 18 years old when she discovered she was pregnant.  Toby wasn’t thrilled about becoming a father, and he told Betty this was just ‘too much’ for him to deal with.  People talked about Betty as she walked around looking more and more the pregnant person she was.  Toby moved on with his life, though he did send Betty money to help care for their child.  Betty learned to talk to herself, to remind herself of her value.

   Who can imagine how Betty feels when she looks in the mirror?  Her six-month relationship to Toby changed overnight.  Her role in life changed, too, as she went from being a kid to being a mother.  She survived, though, and she has recognized that she can’t ever go back to being who she was.  Betty moved out of her role as a ‘bad girl’ (the title people gave her), choosing instead to be a successful mother and employee.  You can do that, too.  Maybe ‘lazy bum’, ‘absent husband’, ‘self-absorbed diva’, or ‘ungrateful louse’ might be names people have given you.  What name do you choose for yourself?  Let the words ring true for you:  “It’s no use going back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”

    Many people have a hard time leaving high school behind.  I wrote about going to my class reunion a few years ago.  The anxiety I had about seeing my old classmates was almost paralyzing for me. I had always felt like the person on the edge of the bubble when I was in school, and despite success in my adult life, returning to see my classmates left me fearful that I would be on the edge again.  My husband, in his most supportive voice said “Look at yourself–look at all you have accomplished!”  I had to remind myself that who I am is not who I was, and I showed up for the event.   I’ve tried to go back to yesterday, to be the person I was, but I’m a different person, and I’m finally okay with it.

Writing about ‘letting go of the past’ has been important to me because I see so many people held captive by who others have said they are, and how they allow themselves to be defined because of it.  The car accident you had twenty years ago doesn’t mean you are a careless driver.  The checks you bounced when you were a teenager don’t mean you aren’t a good money manager now.  The classes you failed as a freshman don’t mean you aren’t able to be an excellent student today.  That affair  doesn’t mean you can’t re-define yourself as a devoted spouse.  If you never leave yesterday, you will continue to be that person.  Once you move to today, you don’t have to worry about going back.

     While change begins with the person changing, the rest of us have the responsibility to allow people to move out of the past.  Otherwise, we are simply part of the problem.     Are you ready to move forward?  Moving out of the shadow of another person or a past reputation really begins with how YOU see yourself.  Change happens slowly.   Sometimes, our changes are so small that we hardly notice we’ve changed at all until one day we realize that we’ve changed tremendously.  If people are going to talk, let them talk.  Life is too short and too valuable for you to be held in the past.  As Bonnie Raitt sings so powerfully, “Let’s give ’em something to talk about, a little mystery to figure out.”

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