[Note: This post was originally published on That First Year.]
It was just this past Friday morning. The sun was shining brightly through the living room bay window after what seemed a week of grey skies, the kind of skies that make you low-key sad regardless of whether or not your life is going well. The birds were singing their new songs of spring, flitting about in the blooming trees. A fuzzy teal Target blanket was draped over my lap, and I held between my hands a mug of hazelnut coffee, the steam curling up, catching the light.
“What I’m hearing is that you’re still mourning the loss of that moment,” said my roommate slash unpaid counselor from the couch opposite me, her own cup of coffee sitting on her lap.
It’s been a hell of a year, but in the very ordinary, nothing-too-tragic-has-occurred sense. You know, the kind of hell that has nothing to do with a death or an incurable illness or a divorce or an addiction, none of that. In fact, if you were to peer into the window of my life from the sidewalk a yard away, it would look to you like it’s been quite a rich year from last summer to the new one approaching us: adventures all around the country and even the world, a new job, a new house with a kitchen so beautiful it should be photographed and framed, a new kitten, by golly! So much new-ness. All good. Objectively, that is.
But I’ve been a mess through it all, a big ‘ole blumbering not-pretty-to-look-at, please-avert-your-eyes mess.
A fun fact about me: I like to keep a tidy house. I like things to go where they should go, the blanket to drape over the back of the couch in the most aesthetically-pleasing way. I like my books to stack on one another so that your eyes have to settle on them for a moment, admiring just how lovely they look on the dresser. I like fresh flowers on the counter and the TV remotes put away and the coasters in just the right spot on the coffee table. I make my bed every morning.
But I hate cleaning. I mean it, I hate, hate, hate cleaning. No part of me enjoys whipping out the Clorox wipes and bleach and getting on my knees and scrubbing away the water residue that has started building up on the shower. It’s a dirty process. It’s dadgum hard work. I try to avoid it until it’s absolutely necessary, and then while I’m doing it, I’m not a whistle-while-you-work kind of girl; I’m just trying to get the process over with.
At the beginning of last summer, my life was so tidy. I had just returned from a two-week trip to London, a trip so wonderful and perfect and perfect and perfect, and did I mention it was perfect? I was offered a new job, a job that for months I had been vying for; my career goals seemed to be slowly coming to fruition. I was developing new relationships, experiencing new things. And I was happy. Goodness gracious, was I happy.
And then, at the flick of fate’s ugly little wrist, my house of cards came tumbling down, and my facade of tidiness was removed, and I saw what gunk and grime and ickiness was in my life, was in me.
I saw what a mess I was, even though I had tried to keep everything so damn tidy. Oh, and I wasn’t happy anymore, in case that part isn’t obvious.
And I can imagine that’s when God clapped His hands together in glee and gathered His angel friends around Him and said, “Great! Now we can finally get to work cleaning this up!” He put a lot of emphasis on the “finally” part of that sentence, I’m fairly certain of it.
I did as poet Dylan Thomas would advise, and I certainly did not go gentle into that good night. Granted, I understand Thomas is referencing death. Obviously I didn’t die physically this past year, but a big part of me did die. I stopped being able to envision goals and dreams for myself; honestly, looking toward my future was painful, because to me, my future looked like the endless same of my present. And I was miserable in my present, though (as a reminder) for very ordinary, nothing-too-tragic-has-occurred reasons. I became like our favorite pirates in the third Pirates of the Caribbean, sailing about lost in Davy Jones’ locker with a map that makes absolutely no sense and with no idea how to make it back to the real world and with a dark sea stretching endlessly in all directions.
And from last summer to the new one creeping up on us, I kept longing for that old happiness I had felt. I longed for the old “glory days” of the first few months after graduation.
But then, on that sunny Friday morning, my roommate slash unpaid counselor reminded me of a point from Brene Brown’s excellent book, Rising Strong (please everyone go read it, you will be a better person afterward!). “You can’t go back,” my roommate slash unpaid counselor said. “Knowing what you know now, you can’t go back to that person that you were last summer.”
And then it clicked. I already knew that I could never go back to the circumstances surrounding that glorious few months of post-grad life—the girl typing away in a coffee shop on a Tuesday afternoon in a naive bliss about how she “doesn’t miss college”—and the even-more glorious start of last summer with all of its exciting new-ness. Though I knew I’d never return to those same circumstances from last year, what I had failed to realize was that in my heart these past ten months, I’ve been longing to return to who I was during those circumstances.
And I can’t do that. There’s no return to that person, to that happiness, to that hope. Because I’m not that person anymore. That part of me, that happiness, that hope has died away.
"The Road Not Taken" is one of my favorite poems, sitting in a frame on my bookshelf (and yes, it looks very, very tidy). In fact, my first post for this very blog was an ode to that poem. But there’s a line in that poem, an important line that somehow I’ve happened to overlook in my continuous readings of it.
“And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.”
“Yet knowing how way leads on to way / I doubted if I should ever come back.”
There it is, the BAM-look-at-this-TRUTH, tucked so neatly away into the piece. Frost knew what I had failed to realize for so long: way leads on to way; there’s no going back.
I’ve thought and prayed a lot about healing, a lot about redemption in the last several months. In my mind, healing meant returning to that person I was ten months ago, that happiness, that hope. I wanted redemption for the parts of me that had been lost. I wanted healing for the parts of me that had died away.
And then my roommate said those you-can’t-go-back words on that springtime Friday morning. The following day at Mass, I had a revelation while reading the book of Revelation (Ha! Good one, God!). “Behold, I am making all things new.”
New. THAT’S IT. That is the missing piece of this puzzle, this part of redemption and healing that I had been misunderstanding this whole time.
I thought healing meant returning to my former self without realizing that healing is quite literally the creation of something new. A wound doesn’t heal by repairing the dead cells; no, it creates entirely new cells to bind up the broken parts of you. I thought redemption meant a recreation of myself, when really redemption has always meant making me into a wholly new creation.
And then this morning, while reading Anne Lamotts’ book (love her), Help, Thanks, Wow, I came upon the line, “New is life.”
I’ve been so focused on mourning the death of my past self that I’ve closed my eyes to the new life being presented to me. All this time, with a heavy sigh I’ve been looking at my future through the lens of my past, swiping a filter over it and seeing it only in relation to the part of me I've lost. And with this rear view mirror perspective, I’ve been missing the hope that’s been sitting on the platter in front of me, like a plate of freshly-baked, gluten-free cookies going untouched because I’ve been too busy looking at the empty plate of cookies I finished months ago.
New is life.
We all know that the past is the past; that is just an obvious, time-bound concept that we have no choice but to accept. However, what I think many of us don’t realize is that we can’t return to who we once were in the past, either. We are ever-changing, hopefully growing into something more than what we’ve been before. I won’t be that girl writing about how she doesn’t miss college in a coffee shop on a Tuesday afternoon, because I now work a full-time job on Tuesday afternoons (and Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons, too). I won’t be that girl dreaming the same dreams as last summer, hoping for the same things as last summer. And you won’t be that person you were last year, either, dreaming your old dreams and wishing your old wishes and hoping your old hopes.
But while I’ve been so focused on returning to who I was last summer, I haven’t realized this whole time God’s been a wee busy at work within me. He’s been doing some deep cleaning, getting on His knees and scrubbing out the water residue in the shower, wiping down the counters, Swiffering the linoleum, cleaning out the smelly refrigerator, ridding me of my pride and my need to always, always be right and always, always be in control and always, always please other people, even to the detriment of my values. He’s been sweeping away my old, weak, I’ll-pray-when-I-think-about-it faith, and teaching me things I would’ve never known otherwise had I stayed wrapped in my bliss bubble. And if you’ll picture in your mind what it looks like to clean, you’ll know that it’s not a tidy process. The dirty water mop bucket’s sitting out, the trash is waiting by the door to be taken to the dumpster, the items that are normally placed so tidily on the counter have to be moved so that you can wipe it down, the books have to be un-stacked so you can dust the dresser. Cleaning is dadgum hard work. But it’s good work. It’s preparing me and you for something else, for something new.
Because up ahead—and today, even—there are new things, better things awaiting you and me. New dreams, better dreams. New happiness, better happiness. New hope, better hope. A new you, a new me. A better you, a better me.
I hesitate to end with this C.S. Lewis quote because Pinterest has effectively made it into a fluffy, free-for-all quote you pin to your “Inspiration” board then promptly forget about it. However, since C.S. is one of the wisest men to have ever walked this earth, I think it best to leave the conclusion to him.
“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
New things, better things.
[Photo by Chelsey Satterlee.]