These last few weeks have been ones of reflection. Just a couple of weeks ago, I made a quick weekend trip to Palos Verdes, California, with the family to say goodbye to Marymount University – the school that offered me a scholarship that brought me to the United States 27 years ago. My first trip outside of Brazil (where I was born) was to be a somewhat definite one. Even though I thought I would stay only for four years, Marymount led me to my wife Nicole, work in the US, and many friends.
Of course, there are memories. Memories of good times, of discovery, of coming of age in a different country than the one in which you were born, of beautiful views from a hill perched on top of the Pacific Ocean, or being repeatedly asked to read the Gospel at mass in school by the resident priest even though I was not Catholic.
Top left: a group meets about 25 years later. Bottom left: just another beautiful view from the campus… Right: the beautiful stained glass window atop the altar in the school chapel.
There were also memories of hardship, of parking cars and of eating endless boxes of top ramen to make ends meet. All of it beautiful in its own way, when I look back. (Sorry, no pictures of top ramen…)
But it does raise the question: what do you do with all these memories?
My life is considerably different today – and I would undoubtedly say much better. Twenty-seven years ago feels like a lifetime away. One lived almost in a different world and place – like you were watching your own life as a movie through a glass, darkly.
The question persists: what is the proper place for things?
What is the right place for all the memories we have in our lives? How do we reconcile them – or not – with the lives we lead today? Should we? Should we not?
I think we should.
Leaving the past behind is an entirely different proposition than denying it altogether, of shoving it aside. We are certainly not our past, but it has helped us be who we are today. We do not need to live in it or carry it around our necks, like an albatross. (The short version of it here, for the less poetry-inclined.)
I would only realize it later, but it brought me back to the framework I wrote about in Our Road to Damascus. I found myself struggling with the very question I visit in the third lesson I picked up from Paul in his journey of transformation: asking The Courageous Question. I guess that shows to prove (yet again) that writers are not as figured out as some of our readers think we are…
The courageous question
Like Paul, we all have to ask ourselves the difficult question of whether we are ready to leave the past behind to move forward to where we want to go. Symbolically, it is a choice between old Jerusalem (where he was coming from) and the new Damascus (where he was going to). We know what choice he made – and we know what choice we ought to make too. It does not mean it is not hard. But it is important – and worth it.
Almost three decades later, I can safely say Marymount – which once was a new beginning – is now old Jerusalem. I am grateful for it, but there is no going back. It will always be there with me, even if it is no longer there. As if I could see a bit more light coming through that glass window, now not so darkly.
And so, I find a place for these memories in my heart. And I keep walking forward, grateful for what has been – but even more grateful for whatever is to come. Wherever you are (place or state of mind), I also hope you are making peace with what has been and making strides toward your new future — whichever one you decide to craft for yourself.
Fare forward, traveler!