The first Christmas after my parents separated they got me exactly what I wanted – a gameboy. I held the gray brick in my hand and felt invincible. I thanked them a millions times. That Christmas we all sat in the house together and opened gifts. No one speaking of the fact that none of my mom’s personal things were in the house any longer nor that half of our things had been taken away to spread them between two homes.
I knew, most specifically, that my mother was devastated that Christmas was such a complicated holiday now. At least with my baby sister she really was still just a baby. For her I can imagine it was just another Christmas with us all together. For me, however, that memory is quite complicated. Yes we were all together but I knew we shouldn’t be and I knew it would never happen again. I didn’t relish in it rather I pretended to be overly preoccupied with my gameboy and allowed my parents to focus on the younger one. Maybe they too could just get lost for a little while.
I was completely fine with everything until my mom said she needed go. The pinch inside my little heart felt unbearable. Knowing something and being immune to the ramifications of it are two wildly different things. But for me, as a young kid, I didn’t understand that. I thought the adult thing to do was be silent – I thought that was bravery. Adulthood has taught me silence is often more damaging than words.
I have many memories like this one… our last Christmas as a family. These are what I call “the day before everything changed” memories.
The conversation before my sister died…
The day before I lied to my friends in college…
The week before my friend hurt herself…
I wonder if you have days like this too?
I think we become acutely aware of the details – most specifically the details we missed while living in them and the details we cannot change. I’ve even found myself wishing I could take what I know now and relive that moment – get a mulligan in life. Maybe I could have made things better or could have at least helped.
The thing is while it’s not the do-over we ask for I really do believe we get second chances in life. Scattered moments where life presents us with a better path or a great joy or a stronger love than what we’ve known. It’s not a replacement of a memory gone by, but the hope of a new one. Nothing replaces people we lose – loss is not a cookie cutter hole in our hearts that can be easily replaced with a similar shape. Mistakes are the same. The ones we replay over and over in our minds are never simple. Instead they are the complicated, messy ones that leave bruises and often infectious wounds.
Second chances are often misunderstood. People either believe in them and expect a replica of what once was or they don’t believe in them at all. And yet more often than not, when either side of that coin tells me where they were and where they are, it is often a beautiful reality check that they have already begun living in that second chance.
When those that have been burned are able to trust in another person again – that’s a second chance.
When a liar is able to change their ways and find someone who believes they are worth trusting – that’s a second chance.
When wounds begin to heal without infection – that’s a second chance.
Second chances are healing, growing, sometimes insanely simple moments that remind us we are not defined by our past but by our response to it. They are opportunities to use our past as a map to guide us instead of being stuck in our past as if it’s the destination itself.
What I have learned in life is that it is not time that heals us but acceptance. Acceptance of what happened, what we did, and or who we were. You don’t have to agree – you don’t have to say, ‘yes I’m glad this happened or that that person is now gone’. It’s not you tying a pretty bow around a gushing wound. It’s you accepting that it happened. Embracing it in a way that allows you to feel the full force of it and then to be able to walk through it. Acceptance is understanding the difference between this happened and this is happening.
What I’ve learned is… when we continue to live and relive the past we make no room for the present. We miss the now because we can’t get past the then. This can often be a big task but it’s a needed one. Step by step, day by day, we must have the courage and often humility to move into the present.
No matter who you are or what you’ve done or where you were going you deserve a present and a future. Make room for the present by no longer giving your past so much real estate in your heart.
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