I was walking my dog today when she spotted two other dogs behind us on the other side of the street. She kept stopping to look back at them, making strange little growling sounds. Since it was only twenty degrees and I didn’t want to be out in the first place, I quickly became annoyed. I tried to point her in the right direction and convince her that what was a block behind her wasn’t going to hurt her.
When I got home, I sat at my computer and felt the same annoyance. I struggled to get my writing going in the right direction and to remind myself that looking back at past events can’t hurt me.
Still, it’s not easy to dive into a past that went from perfect to painful. Looking back with eyes wide open is scary. I want to hold on to the good things and I’m afraid of obliterating meaningful moments in the glare of sharper, newer clarity.
But, as my friend said to me years ago when I was sobbing about my entire marriage being tainted by deceit:
Nothing can change the way you experienced those years. No one can take the happiness you felt.
This is true for you too: you get to be the curator of your memories.
It’s a daunting job. One woman in my writing group described a scene she needed to write about friends who had hurt and deserted her. Her shoulders slumped and her brow furrowed as she said how much she dreaded reliving those moments. The weight of it affected her physically.
It’s no wonder. Instead of being compassionate toward those earlier versions of ourselves, we judge our innocence as foolishness, our trust as blindness, our open-heartedness as a cardinal sin.
And when that happens, not only do we suffer, the story suffers too.
I found this out when I tried to write about being in love, in a relationship that ultimately ended in heartbreak. How could I recapture feelings that were no longer there? It seemed impossible. Then I heard the words of a country song: “I’ll always wear the crown that you gave me.”
Yes. That says it perfectly.
Because even when circumstances change, we get to keep every crown we were given.
We may look back fearfully on memories that were once golden and precious and have since become tarnished by time, tragedy, or transgressions. We may become distracted by the false belief that we have to protect ourselves. We may have plenty of scars to show and yes, we get to show those too.
But don’t forget the crowns. They were beautiful then. They’re beautiful now.
Keep remembering them. Keep wearing them.