I don't know if you'll agree with me or not, but I believe in every one of us...there is a part of us that simply refuses to grow up. Sometimes it is a habit, other times it is an attraction to a specific kind of music, comfort food or experience, or it may be a situation that you just cannot seem to move past no matter how much you try.
Sometimes those associations are harmless. You might hear a song on the radio and you can almost swear that you are singing along with your best high school friends on your way back from Perk's Pool or are in a dorm room dancing around with the girls on the hall. For me, the smell of beer mingled with Coppertone reminds me of the stairwell of the hotel we stayed in Daytona Beach after high school graduation. I also smell gardenias and immediately think of my grandmother or catch the scent of my daughter's hair as she passes and remember how blessed I am to be her mother.
I try corn fritters every time I see them on the menu in hopes that they will taste like the ones that my stepmother, Irlyn's mother used to make, and I make a soup that was my grandmother's recipe that tastes pretty close to her version. I generally find something I like at a restaurant and then order it every time I go in from that point forward because I want to enjoy something in the present as much as I did in the past.
When I see my mother on stage...it reminds me of being a child in the audience and watching the beautiful creature that is my mother be so believable in her role that at times I forget who she is. When I see the "Welcome to Florida" sign...I can almost smell the salt in the air...and when we actually get to the beach house that we have visited for the past 38 years...I still remember the much younger me.
Sometimes this is actually a good thing. The remembering...
I suppose we're all like that. We're wired so that we can process the wonderful memories and the fun times so that we can bring them out and enjoy them...especially at those times when we are feeling a little insecure or convinced that nobody really cares if we're drawing breath or not. We can lose physical possessions...but our memories are ours.
We remember the times when something really wonderful happened to us...and also when tragedy strikes. Most people remember - if they were at least old enough to remember - where they were when President Kennedy was shot, Richard Nixon resigned, when the Challenger disaster occurred, and September 11, 2001 happened. We can transport ourselves there in a minute...and even remember the feelings that we were having at the time.
The good times...the births of our children, our wedding day, or the day we moved into our new home...tend to stick with us. We also remember those times when things worked out in our favor...prayers were answered...or we actually came out far better than we expected...or deserved.
Knowing all of this...why is it that we expect we will have the ability to throw off years of pain, feelings of inadequacy, and other issues when we are placed in a situation that brings those feelings rolling back? Because we're mature? Because we should be healed by now?
Honestly, I don't know. I just know that every once in a while...it is just impossible to be anything but who and what you are.
A few days ago I had a meltdown. I acted from a place that was much younger than my chronological age. I won't go into the specifics...because it really isn't all that important. The bottom line...is that to most of us...perception is reality. If we have been let down repeatedly, we tend to rely on our own understanding. Sometimes that understanding gets frozen in time at a point that makes no sense to anyone else. Or even to us for that matter. It just is what it is.
I know that at age 48 I should be mature enough to be able to hold things in and get through a difficult patch. I also know that I've forgiven every situation of perceived "wrongs" and have - for the most part - moved on. But much like memory...it is easy to fly back to the scene of the crime and rehash everything internally again and again. It is easy to misconstrue other peoples' intentions and assume the worst - because that's pretty much the "default" for just about everything. It is for me anyway.
So, while everything is building inside...everyone is oblivious to your struggles. They notice that you are getting quiet and assume that you are pouting. What you are really trying to do...is deal with the situation without being a problem. Just for the record...if you are actively trying to not be a problem...it's already too late. You're already parked on Dysfunctional Avenue.
I think that there are those of us who have tried for years to get past a few issues and just can't. We pray about it, turn the situation over to God, and we do really well for a period of time. But it is like trying to put "new wine in an old wineskin." You're trying to forgive...to move on...to feel like everything is okay. But then someone rips the scab off...and that ugly, gaping wound is out there...raw and painful.
Maybe tonight you are reading this and thinking that you have absolutely no idea what I am talking about. Perhaps your growing up years were carefree and simple. Maybe your struggles haven't been as dramatic as those of some of the people you know. It is possible that you have been spared the drama that others of us live through and with. If this is true of you...consider yourself blessed.
Maybe you are like me. You've moved on, but some of the baggage that you've been carrying seems to be just going around the carousel at the airport...unclaimed. You can walk away and leave it there...but it doesn't change the fact that it still exists. If you leave it there long enough...eventually someone is just going to deposit it on your doorstop when you aren't paying attention. You can unpack it in therapy, give the bag away, and even set fire to the contents, but somehow it still stays with you like a dead skunk smell stays with the neighborhood for a week or so after one wanders into the path of an oncoming car. You can even will yourself to move on...but sometimes the issues will still bubble to the surface despite best efforts and your denial.
If you're lucky, the people in your life will understand and will support you regardless of what happens. But most often...people just tire of the constant returning to the scene of the crime to go over and over and over the issue. In extreme cases...they try to snap you out of it by just being extremely direct as if you are making life difficult by choice.
Trust me. It is not always a choice.
We want to be whole...but we're not. We want to be good ambassadors for Christ...but we fail. We want to be the person that we are under normal circumstances...but we aren't strong enough sometimes. We're hormonal. We're exhausted. In other words...we aren't perfect.
Not even close.
When I was little, I used to be fascinated by the Aladdin story and the genie and the three wishes. I used to think about what I'd wish for so that I'd be prepared...just in case. Other than wishing for three more wishes...I thought I'd like to have enough money to handle my needs and the wants of my family, my health (including a normal weight) and that I could erase the pain that I carry around from time to time. That's all. I know that pain erasure is really the only one of the three wishes that has a strong chance of actually happening. I just have to keep working on it...and turning it over.
As a Christian, I have turned everything over to Him for healing. And a lot has been healed. But every so often I find myself in a place that I don't expect...and I revert back to the point of the pain...and I respond from that place. It's quite disconcerting.
On the other hand, this simply represents the flip side of memory. For everything wonderful that happens to us, for every song that transports us to a happier time, and for everything that brings us joy...sometimes we have to endure these occasional trips back to a place we thought we had long moved past.
The problem is that there are relationships involved.
And relationships are messy.
Now that I think about it...so was the stairwell at the hotel at Daytona.
I still hope that one day the wisdom of the years will make the scarred places disappear. That happy memories will outweigh any disappointments and that I will be only able to remember the very best of times.
In the meantime...I'm still trying to take those two steps forward even after I've just taken a giant one back. I don't want to overanalyze anything. I don't want to try to manufacture excuses, or even try to understand the trigger that sent everything into motion. I doubt I could replicate the exact sequence events anyway...or even make another person possibly understand.
One day, there won't be the opportunity to make things right. People will move out of my life or will eventually tire of trying to make it all work. Scary, but true. I just have to give them the benefit of the doubt.
I prefer to think of the positive memories that take me back to the places where laughter was king. Where life isn't complicated or difficult or painful. It is just...life.
Because life is good. Even if people are crazy.