Recently, I received (by way of my sister) many treasures and mementos that flooded me with memories of the past. The camera that my mother used from the early 50’s up until the day she couldn’t get parts for it anymore. Baby photos I’d never seen before. Baby photos taken by my grandmother. A charcoal drawing my mother made of me as a teenager with the critical comment, “Rt eye too high.” My first serious camera as an 18-year-old aspiring photographer.
Those of you who have read my book, Passage of the Stork, know that I am fully aware of the drama in my family history and the scars it left on me. But these images of the past filled me with tenderness. Yes, I saw my mother’s hyper-critical nature and insecurity. But I also saw love: my mother’s and my grandmother’s love for me. And I saw how their creativity and love of beauty lived on in me. I, who live very much in the present, am a product of my past.
For some people holding on to the past is a way of survival. The present can be so inexplicable, so threatening. Especially those who have happy memories of the past will cling to this, knowing that, at least then, life was good and made sense.
Others thrust the past far from them, unwilling to confront former pain. “Never look back, always go forward!” is their motto. Entire societies close their eyes to the lessons they learned in the past. And so histories repeat themselves: both in individual lives and in nations.
Neither way leads to understanding – and therefore loving – life. The pain we (both collectively and individually) suffered in the past needs to be acknowledged and let go. The happiness we experienced in the past needs to be seen with clear eyes and brought in touch with the present. No nostalgia, no “Everything used to be better.” But also no blind rush forward, “New is always better!”
I’m reminded of the Systemic Ritual® constellations I used to facilitate with individuals and with groups. The client(s) facing forward in the end, but their past close behind them, giving them support and love.