Ghosts of Our Past

Some days are more difficult than others. These are the days when we remember the past. The past we remember varies dramatically. Sometimes it’s a past we long to return to when life seemed so much more simple. Sometimes it’s a past version of ourselves that we may feel is better or unbroken. Other times it’s a past full of people who we cannot forget, for good or for bad, they left an imprint on our lives, like the outline in our vision when we look directly at a light. No matter what, it’s a past we cannot escape.

Today I was reading through “Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places” by Colin Dickey. His description of memories of the past being seen today as ghosts felt very fitting on a day where I’ve been inadvertently staring at my own ghosts. Not just me, also many friends and associates.

There’s a haunting memory of the past that can be tortuous, reflective, or even calming. Regardless of the effect it is always quieting. That quiet can be the calm before the storm or quiet contemplation. That always seems irrelevant to me.

As I’ve wandered around today I’ve received a few looks of concern or perhaps some type of fear as I’m sure my gaze isn’t the most pleasant. That fact is perfectly alright with me right now, because I really don’t feel like conversing; especially light hearted banter.

For those that are staring off into the distance; physically here but not quite mentally, there’s a conflict taking place on a level we may not even understand. As we struggle to come to terms with those ghosts. As we try to make sense of the past. As we try and quell the fury of memories and tame the power of what haunts us.

I think we all have our own ways to cope with what we experience when we look into our past. Some relive it in excruciating detail, some avoid it obsessively, some face it like a conflict, while some choose to silently contemplate what it all means.

Personally, I’d love to tell you I’ve moved to that silent contemplation with everything, but I haven’t. It varies, depending greatly on which part of my past I’m looking at. Certain aspects feel nearly impossible to cope with but I manage, while others seem like a slight instability of emotion. Ironically it’s taken years of hard work to get to this incomplete point. That is, in and of itself, beautiful.

Every year I’ve gotten better. Every year I respond a little differently and face different parts of my past. Every year I learn something about myself. Every year I grow.

Saying it gets easier is a complete injustice to the process and also a phrase that annoys me tremendously when it comes to this topic. It’s just like ‘Time always heals’. No it doesn’t. Time can cause a wound to fester and become infected as easily as it can heal. It doesn’t always get easier. We just learn, and grow, and we heal ourselves. Again, it comes back to us.

What am I willing to do? No matter how small a step it may seem. Those small steps add up over time. It took me half a decade to go into a National Cemetery to visit some of those ghosts that had been haunting me. I didn’t wake up one day and say I’m going to face this head on today, right now. I took what feels like a thousand tiny steps. Before I even went into that place I made it to the gate at least a dozen times, and turned around. Some may consider that as a failure; and I have a seemingly endless repertoire of colorful phrases of what I think about their thoughts. EVERY last time I made it to that gate I took a step. A step towards change. A step towards recovery. A step along my journey.

My past is my past. Your past is your past. One of my favorite sayings, “It is what it is” applies perfectly with this. Our past is what it is, it’s our past.

The real question is, are we going to live in it? Are we going to let it control us? Or are we going to learn and grow from it?

Some days I set out to write with a purpose. Today I set out to write because I didn’t know what else to do. As I stare into my past and contemplate the ghosts of my personal history and the ghost of myself; I choose to keep going. I choose not to live there anymore. With that choice, each time it’s made, I come to terms with some aspect of what haunts me.

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;…”

~William Shakespeare – Henry V, ActIII, Scene 1