Tuesday, 16 August 2016

[ history is like gravity, it holds you down so patiently ... ]

The past has a habit of coming back to startle you at inconvenient times. It is not kind, rough or gentle, nor does it wait for a fitting setting in which to bring you revelations to colour your present.

Last week while walking to work, I remembered the time my ex and I were in NZ and he spoke to me in the coldest manner. Days later, at home and not feeling well, I recalled an asthma attack from years ago, when my little (younger, younger; he hasn't been 'little' for over 20 years) brother cried and held my hand while I stared at the ceiling, struggling desperately to breathe. Two nights ago, I thought about the first time I met my current boss and how his quiet demeanour was like a beacon that I recognised from someone else - my old boss and friend who passed away in January.

The past is the anchor that tethers us, consistently recalling us to who we are, who we want to be - likewise who we don't want to be, and where we want to go. It shapes our destiny, more than any one event or belief alone could ever do, and our memories make us the beings that are greater than the sum of our parts.


A long time ago, I was the sort of person who fought their past. There were no great demons that hid in my shadows (yet), but certainly things that made me cringe and wonder about someone who made such mundane choices, let alone life-changing ones. I'm not really sure what made me stop, or at least struggle with less vigour, but I think it had something to do with feeling comfortable in my own skin, with all the things I'd done and wanted to do.

As I got older, I learned that some people openly run away from their pasts. Not even just the ones who have distinctly awful memories following them around, but some where they just don't want to face the things they've done and seen. 

I never ran. I fought sure; clashed against and shrank away from a certain type of awkwardness that I hope not to repeat, but I never ran. And this may be part of the reason I endeavour to understand people who do.


Sense of smell is the closest link to memories, they say. Certain scents can evoke a scene so vivid from your past that you can almost close your eyes and imagine you are still there. 

I know the scent of my mothers' perfume in a crowded room. I know what my childhood smelled like (citrus and flowers, by the way). I know what my lovers skin smells like, early in the morning sunshine and after a big night. 

The smell of stale beer also reminds me of when I worked in hospitality, a time so full of personal misdeeds, I'd rather bury it deep in my memory, only to see the light when I'm feeling tough. And the combination of old carpet and musty cardboard reminds of someone long gone, whom I would pretend not to know if we ever saw each other again. 

These are things I hold close to my heart and that surface at the random moments. I have as much control over them as I do over the breeze on the harbour, or the way the light hits my sunnies on the grass. I can tilt my head or move entirely; nature cares not, and neither does your past. 

Some people run half way around the world to get away from such memories - to change the smell of their life. They bundle all their possessions, or take nothing at all, and flee to somewhere that is nothing like their previous surroundings. They throw themselves into a new life, a new job, a new persona, entombing their old life deep in their subconscious, as far away from sight and recognition as possible, lest one glint of it should distract them from moving on.

Forward motion - or evolution and locomotion, as I prefer - is something I'm all for. Vehemently. You've all heard me wax lyrical and profane on the topic, so there's no need to attempt to convince you here. Nevertheless, there is a difference between moving on and just moving - and you know my thoughts on this also. 

Here's the thing with running away; it's just moving. I'm not quite sure how some people manage to follow through in life without recognising their past and dealing with it, but apparently it happens every day. People get up, pretend to be something they're not, and off they chug. Day after day. 

If it sounds like I'm surprised; I am. Intrinsically, I understand that this is a coping mechanism. Life is long, hard and tiresome. No one wants to sit around contemplating their proverbial navel and examining their life to date. Apart from being extremely painful, it also sounds mind-bendingly dull. 

But to make a conscious choice to ignore everything you are and everything you did, seems dreadfully extreme and somewhat counter-productive. And let me reiterate, I'm not including those with some truly horrifying experiences in their past. Though I will say I know some amazing people who are choosing to deal with their past demons in the present, and who inspire me by doing so, every day.

I'm talking about the people who have one really shitty relationship too many, get fired from another job, who just can't seem to get ahead in life; there's never quite enough money or people or experiences to keep them going. 

These people fascinate me like a particularly nasty car accident. You know you shouldn't look but you can't tear yourself away. And, much like an accident, although the gut-wrenching horror is tight in your chest, there is also the desire to help, to see if there is anything you can do, anything at all, to make life easier. 

And so it is with me and people who run away; I want to know why they run and whether there is any other way. Can they get closure on their issues first? Can they take them with them and sort through them in another place? Can they eventually come back to them, stronger and wiser, with the ability to smite their figurative and possibly literal demons another day? 

Not-so-deep down, I know this is also about me trying to figure out some of my own demons, but I'm under no illusion about that being the case. The selfish part of me wants to be special; the kind part wants to be part of the healing. I sincerely hope, every time, that I can make a difference in people's lives, no matter what the motivation.

And in that helping, I look for understanding; our past is the fibre of our beings, the colour on our canvas, the different coloured fairy lights on the string (am especially proud of that one!).

Why then would you run from such a thing? If it's not all doom and gloom, if it's a mishmash of fun and heartbreak and joy and tears, why would you cut it all out, like some unnatural growth?

I'm still trying to figure that out. But for what it's worth, here's my take; we are not clones or cyborgs. We were not born or made, fully formed, then programmed to be a certain way. We learnt it, through teachings from others, reading, learning new skills, and many, MANY life experiences that shaped us anew every time.

So, when I think of the sound of my mothers laugh, and the timbre of my eldest brothers voice - a man I no longer speak to - I'm not going to separate them out. When I recall my lovers curls, knitted around my little fingers, and see an echo of someone else in my mind too, I'm not going to shove the thought away.

And when I get my heart broken and healed, over and over, and know that someone else will do the same again, I'm going to contemplate the feeling, relish the fact that I can feel all the sorrow and all the bliss - all of it; heartbreaks and triumphs - knowing it makes me who I am today.

There will be no running. I have nothing to fear but what I hide from myself. And why would I hide from a life of such wonder?


The title is paraphrased from a beautiful song by the Goo Goo Dolls. Enjoy!

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