Baggage. We pack it and schlepp it when we travel, but this is an emotional and psychological issue as well. Life is not static; circumstances change and evolve and when they do we often find that our previous thought processes, ideas, beliefs and coping mechanisms no longer fit or work and need to change as well. In both instances, we have to, at certain points, decide what to take with us and what to leave behind.
I’ve been confronted with a unique twist on that “what to take and what to leave behind” question in the recent past. Now that Bill is at home with God, memories – those intangible and timeless talismans that are held in the heart and relived over and over - are one of the ways I have of maintaining a connection to him. But as I’ve begun to rebuild my life and consider what the future might hold for me - particularly on the day I had to take off my wedding rings and deal with all the unexpected emotions that stirred up - I found myself wondering “How do I honor these memories - which mean so much to me - without being held hostage to them, trapped in what was and unable to move forward into whatever my future holds? Do I, of necessity, have to leave them behind in order to move forward?”
Leaving the memories behind felt far too much like I was leaving him behind, finally and forever, the mere thought of which I could not bear. I struggled with how to answer those questions for a long time, which I interpreted as weakness or some inherent incompetence on my part. In other writing, I flagged it as “yet another example of how far I haven’t moved on”. But as I continued to sit (and sit, and sit) with this, I realized that what I was characterizing as a defect or flaw was, for me, a necessary part of my journey. Your experience and understanding may be different, but I needed to become deeply, intimately acquainted with – to know in my bones - where I’d been and where I was now in order to have enough clarity and understanding to move forward on a firm foundation. Ironically, the very thing I was stewing about – the memories – helped provide that.
I was reminded of something we heard on one of the Marriage Encounter weekends we attended: that there are times when “…the issue is not the issue…”. Meaning what I’m reacting to or venting my spleen about at the moment may not be the thing that’s really bothering me. So I went back to those questions and asked, “what else is here?”. As I sat with that and prayed over it, it became clear that the thing behind the question of memories and moving on that was creating all the angst was fear; specifically, my fear of the unknown, uncharted future I now find myself staring at, because I’m walking into it alone and on my own without any of the familiar structures and roles I previously had to fall back on or devolve to.
Naming that fear helped me face it; rather than being awash in a sea of murky and mysterious “what-ifs”, I had at least one specific thing I could address. In doing that I saw that I have been (albeit slowly) moving on, inching forward, living into my future. Which brought to mind another precious memory: Bill, asking me regularly, “when are you going to quit your day job and write?” I couldn’t see it then, but he had a clear vision of me one day pursuing this.
The apprehension is still there but the answer to the question, for me, is yes. And yes. Yes, I can take those memories with me, and yes, I can move on.
How – and what – are you feeling right now? Can you describe your mood in one or two words?
Is that it? Is the issue the issue, or is there something else bubbling beneath the surface? If there is, can you name it?
Whatever is going on, is this a “keeper” – something you will take with you moving forward - or is this something you need to leave behind?
As you ponder all of that, let me leave you with these words: “…For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future…” Jeremiah 29:11, NIV