A Present from the Past

Posted on January 18, 2014


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Last week, I remembered something I haven’t thought about in a very long time. I remembered my 25-year-old self, rolled up in a ball on the wooden floor of the apartment I rented, doubled over with grief and a reality I could no longer deny.

That was such a hard time. That was such an awful falling apart.

I remembered all of this because the man who was responsible for this falling apart, for my life suddenly crumbling around me, has been looking me up. Last week I got a notice from LinkedIn stating that he has been looking at my profile.

He’s tried to friend me on Facebook before, he’s emailed me and tried to reconnect, but I’ve never responded. Every attempt that he’s made over the years, I’ve ignored. So I guess he’s left with whatever snippets of my life he can garner from a professional website.

How pathetic.

Twelve years ago, had he wanted to talk with me, had there been even a small sign that he cared about me or was interested in what I was doing, I would have been overjoyed. It’s sad how little I would have settled for from him. But I didn’t even get that. My younger self was cheated on, emotionally abused, manipulated, and even one time, shoved into a bookshelf by this charming beau.

Twelve years ago, when I found proof of his infidelity (yet again) after his promises to change, I finally decided that I had had enough. I broke up with him, I kicked him out, and I came home each day from work and fell apart.

I had spent my entire time at college in this relationship. I had rearranged my life to be with him. I thought this relationship would last a lifetime and when it ended, I wasn’t sure how I was going to move on.

Last week, the memories of that horrible relationship emerged. But last week, I also finished an incredible book by Kate Atkinson called Life After Life,  a book that challenges its readers to think about life and choices and time in an entirely new way. (And yes, you should go and read it if you haven’t).

My favorite line from this book is:  Sometimes something awful happens to prevent something worse from happening. If my present day self could communicate to my 25-year-old self after the worst break-up of her life, I would say something just like that to her.

I would also tell her, as painful as the ending of the relationship was, that it was absolutely necessary. That she deserved so much better. That one day she would realize what a louse he was. I would tell her that she would have many more relationships. One, in fact, that would end up being so incredible and wonderful that she would finally realize how ridiculous and mean and beneath her that guy was.

I couldn’t communicate with my 25-year-old self when she thought her life was over but I know she would have appreciated the comfort, wisdom and reassurance that my present-day self could offer her. If I could talk to all of the younger versions of myself, I would be able to proffer them so much hope. Imagine what I could tell them during their darkest nights! My life hasn’t always been great but it’s pretty great right now. If I could communicate across space and time, I could give the me-of-the-past the solid sense of knowing that things were going to get better. I could give the me-of-the-past this present.

Maybe you can relate. You can see how something awful that happened in your life in the past actually helped pave the way to something better today. Maybe if you could talk to your past self, you could remind her of her worth, remind her that even the terrible stuff will shift. You could tell her how much better the future is going to be.

Or perhaps something awful is happening in your life right now. And it sucks. Everything is falling apart and you can’t imagine how you’re ever going to get through it. If you’re there, your grief is probably overwhelming and you’re just trying to get through each day, one at a time. In that case, perhaps your future self is being molded into someone stronger by the trials your present self is facing.

Who knows why life hands us complete shit sometimes. Who knows why some years are so hard and others are incredibly awesome. I certainly don’t know; I don’t have the secrets of the universe.

I do know, however, that a lot of our suffering comes from forgetting that everything changes. Nothing lasts forever. Even the bad stuff transforms eventually.

No matter what’s happening, we can always remember that life will go on, even when we think it couldn’t possibly. We can give ourselves the greatest present: wisdom that one day in the future we’ll look back at this time and feel grateful for all that we learned, all that we were brave enough to face and endure. We can be grateful for what our past and present selves had to go through, for the benefit and betterment of who we will become in the future.

Perhaps, as Atkinson suggests in her novel, we will get to live our lives over and over again, each lifetime making different choices that lead to different versions of our realities.

Sometimes, when we look at the relationships we’ve chosen in our past, we realize that we’ve chosen poorly. Or we wonder what would have happened if we had made different decisions. Maybe there is life after life and we’ll get another round to see the results of those different choices.

For now, though, I’m comforted by what I’ve learned in this lifetime: regardless of what has happened or will happen, there is always today to choose.

Posted in: Love 101, Self-Worth