“When your past comes knocking, you have a choice. You can welcome it in and see where it leads or you can ignore the call. Trust that if you want it to, eventually it will go back to where it came from—some place far away that you no longer reside in.”
There are so many times in life we are faced with letting go.
Parents let go of their kids when they become adults. People let go of relationships that no longer serve them, jobs that are no longer a good fit, and cities and places as we move to new homes.
On a smaller scale we let go regularly of things we don’t have room for anymore, clothes we’ve stopped wearing and items which no longer work.
It can feel upsetting to purge our lives of people and things. It’s natural to worry that we may be disregarding treasures or true loves. We wonder if something better will come along. We worry that if we let go, we will be left alone with nothing.
But if we are being beckoned to let go, and we honor that call, the process can be beautiful. As we release, it can feel like a dark stone floating away from our soul.
This release can be the catalyst for new beginnings, opportunities and people entering our lives.
We rarely see it that way at the time, but eventually, we recognize how releasing the old usually leads to better-suited things.
In time, we find ourselves moved on, grateful for where the past led us.
But what happens when we let go, but our past refuses to?
Lately, I’ve been seeing examples of people’s pasts—including my own—reintroducing themselves in one form or another.
There’s the friend who’s in the process of moving, but feels unsettled suddenly having to see an ex every day since he’s doing construction on her new property! Eventually she won’t have to see him, but for now, she’s constantly reminded of how much his energy drains and upsets her.
There’s another friend who had a disconnected relative call bringing dismal, unwanted news. My friend had to decide whether to react to it or whether she had truly moved on from that part of her life.
And as for me? An estranged friend from years ago unexpectedly tracked me down, knowing personal things about my life, acting as if we were still friends, making me extremely uncomfortable.
All these past memories resurfacing made me think about how hard it is to move on, and feel good about new beginnings when your past doesn’t want to let go of you.
It doesn’t seem fair actually. After all, it takes a lot of determination to completely sever ties or cut off negative situations. Moving on can be a daily practice and it’s hard to keep that resolve and refuse to go back to old ways.
So when the past finds you, shows up at your doorstep—or caller ID—and beckons for your attention, it feels unfair. Why can’t the past stay where you’ve left it—in your rearview mirror?
On some level I get it.
For one, your past is a part of who you are. You can’t erase it and pretend it never happened. And I understand that sometimes when you move on from people, they simply aren’t ready to move on from you.
But the other part of me feels like when the past comes along, uninvited, to check in, remind you, or ask for something, you have every right to be upset.
After all, when you’ve made your intentions abundantly clear time and time again, and someone ignores that, popping up like a jack-in-the-box, it’s disrespectful and an invasion of your privacy.
Instead of getting angry though, perhaps you can look at this as an opportunity to reassess or reaffirm your decision.
Maybe you welcome this connection once more or maybe its arrival reminds you how right you were to have let it go in the first place.
Just this week, I had an experience which helped me put a lot of what I’d been thinking about in perspective.
After almost five years of having things in storage, it was finally time to get my stuff out and sort through everything.
And so on a 90-degree day, my mom and I stood in her steaming garage and opened boxes, finding relics from what feels like three lifetimes ago. Immediately, I could see this experience going one of two ways.
One, I could easily get swept up in the memories associated with every pot, pan, plate and picture. I could act like an archaeologist, holding them up one at a time to reflect, remember and recite their former significance. Or, two, I could look my past straight into the eye and see it for what it means to me now—which is nothing.
Instead of getting sucked back into the past and becoming sad, nostalgic or emotional, I stayed fully present.
As box after box was sorted through, I just kept remembering how grateful I am to be where I am today. I felt like a different person opening those boxes than I had when I packed them. Letting go and moving on took a lot of work on my part, and I wasn’t about to let some boxes bury me in the dark depths of long ago.
At one point my mom remarked that she was impressed with how easily I was letting go of things to donate. The stuff was like new, wrapped like presents waiting to be open.
I simply responded, “I’m grateful to know what’s coming is better than what’s gone.”
And I meant it.
Sometimes our past collides with our present and it becomes a beautiful blessing. Old hurts are healed, connections are reestablished, and we are better for it.
But other times, our decision to let things go and move on really was the right thing for us and we are reminded of it for the purpose of giving gratitude.
If your past comes knocking, only you can decide what’s right for you in the here and now. And that’s just it. Remember who you are today, not who you were back then. Who you were back then may naturally gravitate to what was familiar, while who you are today and the world you’ve built may have no room for what came before.
Don’t react out of a place of guilt or nostalgia. Stay focused on what your present self wants and the decision should be obvious.
No matter what you decide, do it with a light heart and positive intention.
If you decide to let your past in, do it in a way that feels right and respectful for everyone involved.
And if you decide that there’s simply no space for your past to reside in the present, that’s fine too. You can wish your ex or your family member or your former friend well, without embracing them for an epic reunion.
You can once again remind them of your intentions and your personal boundaries and hope that this is the time they hear you and respect your wishes.
You can donate things from the past that you no longer want and trust that someone else who needs them will receive your blessings. And you can simply throw out the sentimental things that don’t have a place in your life.
It’s easy to get caught up in the past, but what matters most is recognizing the present. Whatever you decide, it’s okay. There’s nothing to feel guilty or bad about when you are living your most authentic life.
And when your decision is made, remember to honor it. If you don’t, no one else will either.
I’ll always be grateful for my past as it shaped who I am today, but I’m making the choice to honor it from afar, from this new place in the present.
I’m making the choice to honor it by living well and being happy now, which is what I dreamed of all those years ago, back when I packed up things in boxes to be opened someday in the future.
* This post was originally published on universeletters.com.
Angie Sarhan Salvatore received her M.F.A in Creative Non-Fiction. She currently teaches college writing and designs inspirational jewelry. For more of her work, you can follow her blog, which focuses on infusing more mindfulness and positivity in your day-to-day life. For your daily dose of inspiration, find her Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Image courtesy of Denys Argyriou.