Having celebrated several anniversaries this month, I’ve been reflecting on what it means to have made it a certain number of years past an event and how we commemorate moments that change us.
Celebrating a year that has passed, whether it’s a year of marriage, sobriety, parenthood or graduation, marks growth or passage on our journey. Anniversaries of the passing of loved ones or other tragic events (Roseburg’s 10/1/15 comes to mind) have the same depth of impact, and give us the opportunity to let the weight of memory hang as heavy as it may.
These are the ways we mark our lives. Nobody lives a flat line. There are ups and downs, milestones and setbacks, moments of achievement and moments of loss.
We make our moments — happy or painful — meaningful by how we process them and then how we choose to commemorate them. These time markers, whether they are weekly, monthly, yearly or longer, allow us to give our big moments significance without letting them define us. Our identities necessarily include these moments and are shaped by them. The moments themselves are past, while we are still becoming.
At night when I stay up too late (or drink too much coffee and my brain won’t turn off) I find myself going over and over moments I wish I could change. It’s amazing how many times I can circle around the same event and think of all the ways I could have managed it or responded to it and what the outcomes could have been that I think would be so much better.
This can only last for so long before it becomes fruitless and debilitating to my growth as a person. So what can I do? Reflection is good but where is the line between that and meaningless brooding?
The difference between a life of overthinking moments I can’t change and being able to move on from them, I think, is giving them a job to do.
I don’t want to remember some of these moments but I can commemorate them in other ways. We all have our traumas; choosing how we deal with them is where the power lies. I have to make the choice to look for what I can learn from them so I can let them go.
A psychologist or therapist could explain it much better, I’m sure, but what I’ve learned from all the processing and reflecting I’ve done on tough moments is that I have to acknowledge that they have deeply impacted me, validate them and turn them into something I can learn from or else I get stuck reliving them indefinitely.
At the end of the day, I can’t make sense of everything. I can’t insist that logic win. It won’t. Not everything that happens is logical, and even if it were, my thought patterns aren’t — at least very often. But it’s ok that not everything makes sense. It’s even ok that there are moments in my life that messed me up and there’s nothing I can do about them. What I have is this moment — that’s all.
If I give this moment meaning by making a choice, even the choice to let go of moments that hurt me or shouldn’t have happened, then its purpose is good and fruitful. It means I am mindful of my feelings, able to live in the present, and willing to release what is not the reality of this moment.
We choose what we focus on. What we let stay at the forefront of our minds is who we become. If we let the painful moments define us without using them to propel us forward, we get stuck and fail to become more than those moments. Even past traumas, necessarily carrying great weight, can’t and don’t matter as much as whatever weight I give them myself as I go forward.