I have said many times that I don't believe in looking back. By that I mean, I don't think it's healthy to live in the past, lamenting things that cannot be changed or using your old hurts and wrongs to make excuses for not living the most full, happy, and wondrous life you can NOW.
However, I have found that there are a few situations in which it can actually be beneficial to consider the past, and use what we've learned to help with what we're dealing with in the present.
For example, I'm currently in the midst of what has been (and continues to be) a difficult and frustrating chapter of my life: recovering from back surgery with some minor physical complications and annoying interactions with insurance companies and doctors with less-than-ideal bedside manner personalities. A dear friend of mine dropped off some "cheering up" gifts yesterday with a card that read, "Hang in there - this too shall be a distant memory soon." Which made me stop and think, "Hmm....where was I at this time last year? What is now a distant memory?"
As you may recall, last year at exactly this time, I was being plagued almost daily by my aptly nicknamed nemesis Nellie Oleson. It was a year ago that I was brought to many tears, tremendous anger, and immense frustration and humiliation. That was definitely a tough time, as I was being personally attacked repeatedly by a person who kept rearing her horrid head into my otherwise content life. Looking back on that now, what do I feel?
Can you believe it? No pain, no anger, no sadness, no offense, literally nothing. It's as if all of that terrible stuff never happened. Thankfully her heartlessness and deliberate cruelty caused me no lasting heartache, and all of that nonsense has no impact whatsoever on my current daily life. (It did however, provide some excellent inspiration for some blogs that I am quite proud of, so often times there can even be positive results from the torture you have to endure.)
This is a perfect example of "this too shall pass," and it's wonderful to have a tangible reminder of that while I, or you, are going through a particularly difficult time.
Another time when it's good to look back is when you're feeling stuck in a rut or like you haven't accomplished enough in your life. At those times it's good to pull out your resume and check out all of the things that you have actually accomplished up until this moment in your life. When it's all written down, you can concretely see things you've done that might have forgotten about. And if you don't have a resume for the job you're currently doing (i.e. I don't have a resume for the eighteen years I've been a mom) then write one! Really think and reminisce and write down every triumph you've had and every obstacle you've overcome. Everything from "Everyone loved my cupcakes at the bake sale so much that they sold out," to "I had both sets of in-laws over for dinner and I kept the conversation focused on safe topics," to "I worked out 10 minutes longer than I did yesterday" to "All three kids are now packing their own lunches and doing their own laundry." etc. etc. Some of you out there have completed marathons and triathlons, some of you are working hard at jobs outside the home while taking care of things inside the home, some of you are doing charity work and going on mission trips to help make the world a better place for people in need, and some of you have won amazing awards and have received recognition from outside sources that exhibit your contributions and achievements. Whatever they are, whatever you have done, WRITE IT ALL DOWN. Go back to elementary school and spelling bees, high school honors classes and sports trophies, early accomplishments and promotions from your first jobs, and on and on and on. Don't forget to write down specific accolades from people you've admired - family members, friends, or even strangers on the street who might have complimented you on your outfit. Looking back in this way can strengthen your present, reminding you of all that you have accomplished in the past, and fortifying you for what you can accomplish in the present, and what you WILL accomplish in the future.
The other time when I think it can be healthy and beneficial to look back is to take the quote from Dr. Seuss which says, "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." I was talking to a friend with young children about their Halloween plans and she said something sympathetic to me like, "Aww...your kids are too old for that now, huh?" And I took a moment to remember all of the fun Halloween experiences we had over the years. Parties, candy swapping negotiations, and the many great costumes that we put together - sometimes that took weeks to create and sometimes that were cobbled together at the last minute. I'm not sad at all that my kids no longer go door-to-door (and maybe Halloween is an easy one to reckon with because all along you know there's a short trick-or-treating window in every child's life) instead, I'm so happy that they had such fun and meaningful Halloween experiences while they had them. When childhood things like that come to an end, while it's fine to grieve for them if that's how you feel, it's also nice to be able to look back on those as chapters that were meant to be started, lived, and closed, as the natural order of things. Which also means that we should do our best to make them as memorable as possible while we are living through them.
When you think about it, every single thing that we do becomes a memory. The breakfast that I ate 3 hours ago is now a memory. My son's football game tomorrow night will become a memory as soon as it's over. While we lament that "all good things must come to an end" we can also remember that all bad things must come to an end as well. Which can be very comforting when we're mired down in the quicksand of the tough stuff.
So while I'm riding out this not-so-great chapter, taking things one moment at a time, I'm keeping in the front of my mind that, like my horrible encounters with Nellie, this too will become a distant memory that has no lasting effect on the sustentation of my life. It's hardest when things are out of our control, but as long as they are, it helps so much to remember that today's struggles become next years "Mem'ries....lighting the corners of our minds." And that's all.