Hard times occur.
Difficulties present themselves.
Obstacles appear on our path.
New tough situations are always on the horizon, but old issues cycle around every so often and bring their pain and hurt back into our lives.
They seem to reappear out of nowhere.
They can arrive like phantoms, unwelcome guests at our door.
We feel their intensity, the fresh burn of their bitterness and bite as they push past us with their suitcases of old suffering and settle back into our lives.
After our initial shock, we find a moment to call our friends, our opening line,
‘You’re not going to believe….’
Is quickly followed by a slump of our shoulders and our hearts into
‘Oh…I thought I was done with this?!’
Our patient, loving friends remember all the details – the excruciating breakup, the overbearing employer, the abusive parent, the deep sadness we felt when our dear friend passed. They have sat with us long and deep as we’ve worked our way through the hurt, the endless and sometimes dramatic unpacking and recalling of events, the hours of uncertainty, suffering and pain.
They’ve passed us tissues and given advice, they’ve celebrated our slow healing or danced with us the day we sent eviction notices to the hardship, they’ve smoothed our hair or helped us sweep away the debris in the aftermath.
And then they have rested with us, in the relative calm that followed. Maybe weeks, maybe months or years.
But seasons change, and somehow that old situation has arisen in our heart, mind or life again, and we are left feeling sidelined, smothered by its intensity or made small with a rekindled sense of shame.
There is a desire in all of us to move away from things that are painful and hurt. It is a protective mechanism, a natural reflex.
We can try to ignore or distract ourselves – modern life offers many options for this.
We can become angry, resentful or bitter. We can become self-absorbed, overwhelmed and filled with despair.
We may do or feel all of these in our initial reactions.
But as the first waves of shock pass over us, as we begin to cycle more deeply through the situation, we can reassess and recycle our thoughts and feelings.
Yes, we are being presented again with an old painful situation – but the difference is now, that we are new.
We have learned new ways to respond.
We can see with new eyes, understand with fresh awareness, feel into the situation with the new strength of our wise and open heart.
We can still want to slam the door in the face of old wounds. We can still wish to pull the blinds and block the past from bringing pain into our present.
We can wallow in the perceived hopelessness of never moving on.
Or we can look out with honesty and see that situation or memory standing at the gate. We can fold our arms across our chests, size them up and say to ourselves,
‘Ahh. I know you.’
But instead of rushing into reaction – of running towards it in a rage or running away – we can stand and observe them a little longer.
We can allow ourselves to see them differently, and thinking out loud, may hear our ourselves say…
‘Well, I used to know you.
But let me look more closely, maybe you have changed?’
And inevitably they have.
Because time has passed.
Because, regardless of the situation, we have lived through it, we have survived.
And as a result, we know more than we did back then, we are stronger, we may have more clarity and time has given us the great gift of perspective and distance from it all.
As we stand and look at the situation anew, we can pause and take time to notice it’s subtleties – it’s cracks, it’s weaknesses, it’s old stories, it’s truths or lies.
And when we do, we can see the situation has changed.
And that more importantly, that so have we.
We may not welcome that person or situation back into our lives again, but we don’t have to feel afraid of facing their memory.
Feelings will continue to revisit us.
Painful memories may never fully fade.
But with time, and with gentle, continued practice, we can recognise that we have learned and grown and changed.
And if we choose, we can find great peace in that.
(C) Chandu Bickford
Artist credit Meinrad Craighead