migrated from blogger – original post dated March 19, 2008

She looked at me with tears in her eyes and cried, “You don’t know what its like to be sixty. You don’t know what its like to be this age and have no education, no money, and no future.”

No, no I don’t know what its like to be sixty. I don’t know what it is like to be sixty and uneducated, with no money and no future.

And God willing and the creek don’t rise, I never will.

But I do know what its like to watch someone throw their life away—one day, week, month, and year at a time. And I’ve spent nearly forty years doing just that and wishing it could be different, wanting so much to stop it from happening, and eventually banging my head against the wall and walking away in despair.

If she were here in front of me I would say, “It isn’t my life or my decisions that count here, it’s yours. What good does it do to cry and moan about the situation you find yourself in or bewail the years when you didn’t get the education, didn’t stay with Mr. Right, or didn’t pay your taxes on time?”

It does no good. None at all.

Look, I know what it is like to make mistakes. I know how it feels to flash back in time and see myself behaving like a horse’s ass and making unbelievably stupid decisions with my life. There are moments when they hit me, a snapshot of memory that makes me wince with regret and embarrassment. My stomach flips, I close my eyes, and wish to hell I didn’t remember things like that.

It is far easier to remember the bad rather than the good. We are so good at etching those painful moments deep into the flesh of our memories, deep into the folds of gray matter. The funny, positive memories don’t seem to have the staying power, the deep hooks to burrow in and stay. They seem so much less retrievable.

But it is what we do next with our memories, our guilt and shame, that matters so much more. We cannot change the past, we can only move forward. We must learn from the past, this is essential. But when those awful memories surface, do you flagellate yourself again, reliving the past in agonizing detail? Or do as I do and close your eyes, let the memory come, and then say…

That was the past.

That was yesterday.

And I live in today.

Let me learn from my mistakes

Let me grow as a person, and

Let me move on and be someone better.

You cannot progress into the person you want to be if you insist on re-living your mistakes over and over. You cannot improve yourself by continually revisiting past transgressions. By wallowing in guilt and despair you hold yourself back from becoming the person you dream of being.

Stop…doing…that.

I mourn for her. I mourn for the person she could have been. For the person she will never be, and for the person she chooses not to be. I mourn for her—and wish things could be different. I am afraid that I understand far better than she does what it means to be where she is now. Because, for her future, for her personally, there will be no change. Because she cannot see anything but this life, and these choices, and this life she has chosen for herself.

You cannot change her.

I can’t change her.

But you can change yourself.

I can change myself.

You just have to believe, really believe—and then take the first step—and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next.

What are you waiting for?

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