Watching the ball drop each New Year resembles tossing a stone into a still pool of time. Reflective ripples race out in every direction. This is the nature of new. A new year, new relationship, new start of any type stirs reflectiveness, a tendency to glance back regretfully and/or dream forward wistfully. Sometimes, though, the regrets overwhelm dreams.
I unexpectedly left my job last fall. Ugh! I don’t regret the leaving. God has shaped it into an opportunity for early retirement! The pain has come when I’ve become frozen in reflecting on the process that precipitated my leaving. Had I been able I would have done it differently.
Looking back is natural and sensible. When hiking an unmarked trail, and the future is always unmarked, it’s wise to turn round and examine the back trail. Locate landmarks. Judge distance. Spy the vistas from a new perspective. That rock formation that reminded you of a dinosaur from the front unexpectedly bears a resemblance to Winston Churchill from the back.
So it is with time traveled too. Life appears different from the here and now. But the purpose of reflecting on the back trail while hiking is to keep from getting lost on the return trip.
HOPE BACKWARD IS NO HOPE AT ALL
The purpose for looking back in life is different, however, because there is no return trip.
Still I brood on the past. Especially in the middle of the night. The past becomes a dark cave I cannot find my way out of. I call this hoping backward. We express backward hope in wishes and regrets. I wish I would have said — I wish I had only—.
For years I wished my father had not died when I was eleven.Or ever! No amount of regret, however, will rub the words “Harold C Scott Sep 25 1919 June 13 1968” from his gravestone.
I think this is why time travel stories are popular. They give our backward facing angst an avenue. But even the fictional rules of time travel forbid changing the past because it will negatively alter the present and future. Though Marty McFly seems to get away with it, we can’t.
In reality, hoping backward doesn’t bring anyone back to the future; it kills it.
When regret becomes chronic, we become bound to the past, a past that no longer is and that we have probably misinterpreted. Hoping backward then leads to anger, anxiety, shame, false guilt, powerlessness, and an inability to make decisions. We become neurotic ghosts.
Regret is useful. But only momentarily when we use it as a tool to make new and healthy choices, as a prod to repentance. Transformation. Repentance is more than saying you are sorry—or being regretful. Repentance is movement along the trail in a future and positive direction. In repentance we admit we were on the wrong trail and turn and head down another.
Eventually, I ceased wishing I had a father and became one. My dad would have loved my children and grandchildren. This year I’m going to put away the regret about last year’s events.
HOPE WORKS FORWARD
In life there is only forward.
How can we not hope backward but rather hope forward? Not by being frozen by or ignoring the past. We must learn from it. You know that old saw about history repeating. But just like on a hike, we often misread the landmarks or choose the wrong ones. I often survey my past searching for profound accomplishment or events! And usually I’m out of luck. Last year I did not write a best-seller. But I did write. I did not go viral.
But what if I had different eyes. Smaller so to speak.
Searching my past year for different landmarks, I notice that my fortieth year of marriage to The Redheaded Wildflower passed quietly. Our anniversary was not featured in any news story. We went on a date. We may have even made love. Glad that didn’t make the news!
Forty years! But in 1978 our pre-marital counselor predicted we’d never make it. He said I was immature. I wanted to punch him. But that would have proved his point! I was twenty-two. She was twenty. We were immature. Me mostly.
But here we are. Forty years gone: one day, one kiss, one argument at a time.
Also in 2019, The Redheaded Wildflower retired from a remarkable teaching career and being a caregiver to children after forty plus years. No cover picture on Time Magazine. Yet we sometimes run into her past students in the grocery store.
“Mrs. Scott!” they exclaim as if they’ve seen the queen.
Back along the trail I also see several wonderful and some unsavory characters. Not all of them fictional. Ironically, most of the unsavory ones don’t know they are. Neither do the wonderful ones. Like the delightful young couple The Redheaded Wildflower and I bumped into after worship one Sunday.
“Do you know anyone who could talk with us about relationships?” the young woman asked.
“Maybe.” I answered.
They brought over grilled salmon and we drank wine and talked on our back porch. We connect with them now every couple of weeks. They have enriched our lives in countless ways. Their desire to listen to our marital stories and learn and grow has inspired us likewise. No one interviewed us on TV about our key to staying married so long. Instead we befriended two people on the beginning of their journey.
I also remember we gathered family for food, fun, conversation, and hiking. We tickled and cuddled and read to our grandchildren. We built a snow fort.
I wrote in my journal, where many of these unremarkable remembrances are stored.
We ate 1,095 meals. Some were memorable. Our friend/photographer/pastor/chef, Mark Grapengater, cooked a five star meal for us in commemoration of The Redheaded Wildflower’s retirement. It was delicious and intimate. Remarkable. At least to the eleven people around the table.
But all 1,095 meals nourished.
And that’s the point. In hoping forward, small is the new big. Hope grows best from tiny seeds planted in our hearts over time. Hoping forward is intentionally recognizing, watering, and replanting those seeds.
Oh—and one other small event from 2019. We visited a Claude Monet art exhibit. It was fabulous. Monet wrote about his Impressionist art: “. . . you have to know how to seize just the right moment in a landscape simultaneously, because that particular moment will never come again . . . [emphasis mine]. Monet painted his immediate impressions of the details of a large landscape rather than trying to capture its vastness. In so doing, he invented a new/old way to see. Painters before the Impressionists painted with grand vision and tried to hide their brushstrokes so we would gape at their work. We make the same mistake reflecting on our lives. Monet refused this philosophy. Monet proved there is beauty even in the smallest brushstrokes.
When the ball drops this year, I hope we reflect on the small colorful brushstrokes the Artist painted in our last year lives. Then, hoping forward, turn round and squint to see the new landscape the Artist is planning.