I was on my way to work the other day when, for the millionth time, I looked in my side view mirror while I was at a stop light. Sometimes there is a congested line of cars with tired, impatient drivers who honk their horns at me when I don’t notice the light has turned green. Sometimes torrential rain prevents me from seeing the road behind me, much less the one in front of me. Other times, such as last Thursday, the road in my mirror is empty, sunny, and picturesque. It’s the road that leads back home, and I feel strongly compelled to just turn my car around and go on back to the house.
We often look behind us for comfort, familiarity, or maybe to dredge up in our memories a conversation that didn’t go well, an incident that we replay over and over, always with a different ending, or an action or life changing decision that never became a reality. The road behind us becomes well worn with travel and filled with what ifs and regrets.
Have you ever had a conversation that didn’t go so well and then spent, oh, I don’t know…twenty years wishing you could undo it? No? Well, I have. Not only that, but I’ve spent the last year alone wishing I could take back several conversations with my sister in law, about four conversations with my boss, and maybe six or seven I’ve had with several friends and co workers.
Here’s two things you just learned about me: 1. I can’t let things go. 2. I have no filter connecting my brain to my mouth allowing me to censor what I say, resulting in many bruised egos, strained friendships, and pointless arguments. It’s a gene that is, in fact, lacking in the Flanagan lineage. The shut-up-before-you-say-something-stupid gene.
Twenty years ago, I spoke to a guy with whom I went to high school whose brother had died about six or eight months earlier. It is important to note that I had a slight, teensy, enormous crush on this guy that would make what nearly every ten year old girl feels for Justin Bieber look like nothing short of hatred. So, I was a stammering, moronic, oaf when it came to talking to him. The conversation went something like this:
Me: “Hey, how was your semester?”
He: “Not so well.”(and he mentioned something about his grades being low). I thought this was odd, considering he was a really smart guy. My brain, in it’s béguin induced fog, didn’t make the connection with his grades and his brother’s death, which therefore prompted me to say, “Really?!? Why?!”
He: “Well, let’s just say, it’s been a rough semester.” Yeah, let’s…and let’s end this conversation before I say something really stupid, such as, “Well, why didn’t you ask your brother for help?” I felt like the most insensitive, self centered witch on the planet. Could I not have prepared what I was gong to say ANY better than that?! At 18, I lacked the social skills to gracefully climb out of the hole I had just dug, and was all too willing to just be swallowed up. I will never forget that conversation, nor will I ever be able to forgive myself for being so insensitive amidst my infatuation for that guy. I can guess what he might say after all these years. “Well, I don’t exactly remember that conversation ever happening, but if I did, I’d have gotten over it about 19 years, 11 months, 29 days, 23 hours, and 59 minutes before you obviously have because I’m a normal human being. I strongly suggest you get over it, too, and MOVE ON.”
Well, alrighty then.
I can’t move on when I’m too busy looking behind me at all the conversations in which I was too impatient or insensitive to listen to what another person was trying to say. I can’t move forward if I can’t see what’s in my past that’s holding me back. And I can’t move forward when the beguiling road behind me is beautiful and sunny and beckons me to just turn around and go back to what is inviting, familiar, and comforting.
So, the light turned green and with all the energy I had, I pushed the accelerator, and moved forward. I worked, I picked up my daughter from school, we came home, and I kissed my husband when he came in. We ate dinner and prepared to do it all again tomorrow. My family completed actions that, in and of themselves, were insignificant. Worry, fear of tomorrow, small regrets, chores, minor decisions and celebrations(and some not so minor), small, superficial interactions with each other that, when put together, are all indications that we are truly living…and moving forward.
So, what’s in your rear view mirror, if anything, that’s holding you back? What, if anything, is moving you forward?