This is the Part 1 of a three-part mini series (read Part 2, about the future, here and Part 3, about the present, here) that I decided to write because I'm finding that the concepts of past, present, and future are crucial in figuring out how I want to live my life. I thought I'd share my feelings on them; if you have any insights or thoughts of your own, feel free to leave a comment! I'd love to hear from you.
If I were to rank myself on my level of nostalgia on a scale of one to ten, I would probably give myself about a seven. I frequently reminisce about past vacations, past summers, childhood traditions, and the general essence of life that I experienced growing up. Overall, I believe it's a good thing to recall the days gone by. Without a past, there wouldn't be a present, so you might as well cherish what was.
There comes a point when waxing nostalgic can become a bit toxic. Laughing about inside jokes and remembering that one time your dad shaved off his mustache for the first time in your life and had to put little piece of kleenex on the places where he nicked his face with the razor is one thing. Dwelling on relationships-gone-wrong and continuing to blame yourself for mistakes made or for hurting people you loved is a completely different ball game.
I grew up wishing I could make each special moment of my life last forever. I never wanted anything to end, because even if it was an annual tradition that would happen again the following year, I knew deep down that it wouldn't be exactly the same, and this devastated me. I wanted to hold on to those experiences and somehow combine them all into one giant stew of happy emotion meatballs and laughter-filled vegetables and then I wanted to dive into the stew and swim around in it with my friends and family, tasting its deliciousness forever and always, amen. I felt like I would never be as happy as I had been in those moments, which, unsurprisingly, resulted in me being less happy when I wasn't in those moments.
And then I became a teenager. The traditions and memory-making experiences continued, but with the added twist of male companionship. I jumped right into the world of flirting and drama, dragging my nostalgic tendencies along for the ride. As I bounced from boy to boy, relationship to relationship, I found myself unable to fully move past any wrongdoings or loving words. Instead, they became entrenched in my mind, and even after I had gotten over the physical boy himself, the memories lingered, and I found myself ruminating over what could have been if things had gone differently, or wishing that I could take the best bits and pieces of my last relationship and make them a part of my new one.
This only intensified once I hit college, and with it, more "serious" relationships. I found myself defining who I was based off of the fact that I had inflicted pain and hurt upon some people (because at this point in time I started to care just as much about platonic friendships as I did romantic relationships), while at the same time experiencing emotional lashings of my own. I was unable to move forward, because so-and-so was a wreck and it was all my fault, but the only reason I treated him like that was because all of those others so-and-sos treated me that way first. Looking back, I wish I could have plucked myself from the midst of all of those situations and plopped myself firmly on the outside-looking-in, if only to be able to see it from a different perspective. Instead, I tossed all of my assumed truths and nagging doubts about myself into a giant suitcase and lugged them into adulthood.
They festered for awhile, always a weight on my shoulders. I was never quite able to shake them off, and this inhibited me from truly being able to make any real progress in my life. Instead of shedding the emotional pounds and starting fresh, I added each new trip-up or assumption of everlasting love to my psyche, and eventually found myself paralyzed by twenty-some years of regrets and "what ifs". Heavy stuff, right?
And then...I slowly began to let them go. I don't recall why or when, but I started replacing memories instead of stacking them on top of each other. I finally came to the realization that the hopes, dreams, and errors in judgment of a teenager, or a twenty-something-year-old girl, were not written in stone; were not cemented or permanent. They were pieces of a puzzle - my puzzle - that needed to be turned every which way until they could finally link together in a way that made sense.
Should I do this?
Nope, try again.
Should I say that?
Nope, let's turn it clockwise and see if - ah, yes, there it is. Lesson learned, moving on.
It took me a long time to get to this point. I know that some people figured it out far earlier than I did, and I suspect there are others that are still struggling with it. I myself am far from perfect; I still catch myself wondering and wishing certain things. The difference is that now, instead of allowing these thoughts to settle in and make themselves at home, I send them on their way and smile as I watch them go. I shut the door behind them, look around at my life, and give a slight nod of affirmation. I am as I should be at this very moment in time. Certain experiences got me to this point, but that doesn't mean they define me. I have a journey ahead of me, full of more people and places that will mold me and become a part of me, but I now know that in order to avoid getting stuck in the past, too distracted to discover what the future has in store, I must loosen my grip on some memories, if only just a little.
Unless they're memories of my dad shaving off his mustache. Because that was really funny.