One idea I’ve struggled with regularly over the past many years, possibly even decades, is how to approach turbulent times in my life. Whether it was my inappropriate behavior or someone else treating me poorly, I’ve always found it confusing on how to approach concepts like forgiveness, reconnection, letting go, and so forth. Every instance is unique and each one carries its own set (or memory) of feelings, place in the present (or not), and history.
Having dinner with my brother recently I expressed this exact confusion. We began touching on behavior in our pasts, or people who had negatively affected us, and I explained to him how I have resorted in trying to assign each building block in my past as this: as a lesson, or as a blessing. I’ve taken this approach for a while now, but where I’ve found confusion is in accepting something as one of these. If something is a lesson, does that really make it hurt any less? Even more confusing, are blessings only building blocks (aka dots) that made us feel good at the time?
It occurred to me these assignments are in fact whatever we choose them to be. Plenty of building blocks are clear blessings. The birth of my daughter. The time I went on to Regionals for the Wisconsin State Spelling Bee. Meanwhile some are very obvious lessons. Cheating on partners (both myself and my partners). Being taken advantage of while missing the signs (and yes, taking advantage of others). These are plain and obvious.
There are some building blocks however that float between these ideas. Heck, I’ll start off with one that just occurred to me as I am writing this: the birth of my daughter. She has been a blessing in all of our lives since the very day she was born. She has also required us to learn, and to accept when we maybe didn’t do the best we could, right from the very beginning. Whether it was accidents while changing her, or losing her for over an hour amidst 45,000 people at the Wisconsin State Fair (a terrifying ordeal for everyone, including her). Even that was a blessing, at the very least being reunited with her was.
The Biggest Struggle
The biggest struggle I’ve had is regarding the history of my first girlfriend. Our relationship was toxic. Even the parts that most definitely felt good at the time were just brimming with toxicity. Whether it was the way she acted and treated me and others, the way I did the same, or the way we encouraged and supported each other in such behavior. Now I know what any reasonable person is going to say. We were kids. We were immature, young, entitled, etc. All of this would be accurate. As we mature, most of us grow out of this, but to my perception she had not, and years later I would figure out that I hadn’t matured quite as far as I had thought either.
Now none of this should matter. I hadn’t kept in contact at all, nor had she. Occasionally news would reach me through happenstance, and I almost reveled in hearing stories of misfortune. Reminder: I still had quite a bit of growing up to do. Though for the most part, we didn’t exist in each other’s orbits and I didn’t keep track on much of her life post-us. And then came social media.
To my memory, she had sent me a friend request on one of the earliest platforms, and I can promise you that immediately it set me off on “Do I accept, or don’t I?” It essentially came down to this. If I accept, it shows that I am the bigger person and have moved on. If I decline, it shows that actions carry consequences, and we can’t treat others with disregard and expect them to keep us in their lives. I am guessing, but probably accurate, that I accepted, deleted, declined, each multiple times, on those earliest platforms. Repeat this pattern across most of the newly introduced platforms.
To be clear, this hadn’t impacted my life at the surface level as much as I am writing here. This is more illustration. Spread out these paragraphs over the preceding 15 years or nearly 5,500 days. My day to day life is 100.0% absent of these thoughts or concerns, but every once in a while something brings back a thought. Maybe a request. Maybe a mutual friend. Maybe just a memory. Each time it comes up I end up almost always asking myself “Where do I stand on this today?”
“They have all been rest areas and destinations along the journey of me arriving at exactly where I am, and some of them don’t need any further resolution than that.”
I have now discovered the answer. Circling back to my dinner with my brother and reiterating this idea of lessons and blessings, I was very quick to toss that first relationship into the lessons bucket. The catch; we began discussing how every event in our lives had resulted in us arriving at exactly the point we are now. The birth of my daughter and the blessings and lessons there, and yes even that very first toxic relationship and the negative feelings since. They have all been rest areas and destinations along the journey of me arriving at exactly where I am, and some of them don’t need any further resolution than that. We take away lessons from tough events in our lives. Yet at the end of the day even those tough lessons are blessings.
Many of us look for closure. We look for meaning. We want all of the stress, frustration and sadness we feel to give us instant value; instant returns. At least that way the emotional energy we are spending gives us instant value, instant validation. Just like those dots, we will often never see that emotional value right now, or looking forward. Instead we have to process it, work through it, and trust that the growth we experience while going through it becomes a necessary speed bump on the road to where we are meant to end up.