“Our hearts, our hopes, our prayers, our tears, our faith triumphant o’er our fears, are all with thee – are all with thee!”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
It was a long flight back home. I was 13 at the time, and getting ready to head back to Georgia after several weeks of visiting my grandmother’s cabin in Maine. I had memories of lobster, learning how to quilt, and a large green lake.
It had been a great trip, not the typical fun-filled adventurous one that most kids my age would have loved, but it was perfect for me. Maine was hauntingly beautiful, a place for writers and dreamers.
“Noni” wasn’t an easy person to get along with, but this particular ambient transformed her somehow. Giving a bit of softness to those hard edges. And although our relationship as grandmother/granddaughter would never have that easiness that others do, we had our moments.
I stared out of the small airplane window, and inspired by the beauty, I reached into my bag to take out pen and paper, when I suddenly found a neatly wrapped gift with a small note on the top. Touched by the unexpected offering, I immediately opened and read it.
To my Cindy,
If you are going to be a poet, you need to read the best.
Remember to keep everything you write. Don’t throw anything away.
Someday you’ll do something amazing with it all.
They were only three lines on a small note, but the message impacted me. As I opened the gift, my mind raced to all of the disagreements and unwelcome memories I’d experienced with my grandmother. Far too many to count. She had been a source of sadness in many ways, and yet, here was her small and big attempt at leaving part of her legacy behind.
I took out the small hardcover and smiled.
“The Poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.” A writer from Maine.
People surprise us. The best writers have a way of showing villains as humane, and heroes as faulty. Why?
Because every person you meet has a light and shadow-self. We’ve encountered them all before, sometimes they are in the form of our bosses, family members, ex’s and friends. We changed our feelings for them depending on their attitudes and actions. At times they were the “bad-guy”, and at times, they were our soothing balm. And whether those people stayed in our lives or not, they changed us somehow. For better or worse.
I learned many things from Noni, she taught me things I didn’t want to follow in my own life, but she also taught me about strength and persistence. She was the epitome of contradiction, brash yet affectionate. Our relationship would forever remain complicated, but I still remember that book of poetry fondly, I still remember her immortal words of encouragement to keep writing.
Keep it all.
Maybe you have had these big dreams that got washed away by reality. Difficult experiences like loss, heartache, and financial hardship have a way of making us toss out all our brilliant ideas. Maybe you’re clinging on to these bitter memories and using them to rationalize your mantra of “I’m just not good enough.”
Here’s the thing: you have to go back.
There are tidbits of yourself that were thrown away when you left unpleasant experiences behind. The ones where you said “Never again”. There is no question that leaving abusive and harmful relationships are the best thing we can do. But what about those parts of ourselves that trusted, and loved unconditionally? The ones that still believed the world was a safe place? We have to go back and retrieve those parts of ourselves.
Hold on to your idealism, as much as your skepticism.
The trouble is that we’ve placed our doubts way ahead of our hopes. We’ve been taught to think of idealism as a weakness, something to prune out, and we rely on our skepticism to help navigate our lives. By avoiding more than we choose to include.
We need both.
We need the latter for critical thinking and analysis, and to rule out the things that are no longer beneficial to us, but we also need to believe in our crazy ideas. Don’t throw those out. Don’t throw out the better parts of yourself with the bad experiences lived.
I still remember Noni’s note till this day, and though she referred to my own writing, I’ve realized that her words relay a much greater message:
Don’t throw your life away.
Do something amazing with it.
©C.R. Lamothe 07/25/2013
What are some of your own experiences with letting go and holding on to the past? Does it interfere in your dreams? Let me know in the comments below.