When I was young, my mom had a strange tradition every September of going to the beach to watch the sunset and cry on the last day of summer. Sometimes she would bring my sister and I, but usually she’d go alone and return puffy-eyed and melancholy, wishing for the past. She claimed that this was her way of letting go and moving forward in the year, and in a way, I understood. I believe saying goodbye to the past and feeling your feelings is a necessary step to moving on, but even more important is the step of celebrating and saying hello to the future. A new day can’t start until an old day ends, and a new day can’t truly be enjoyed if a person is stuck yearning for the past.
There are many ways a person can find themselves stuck in the past. Regrets keep a person tethered from behind, fixated on a decision that can’t be changed. Idealization keeps a person looking back, too focused on the rose-colored hue to notice the true light in front of them. Comparison keeps a person hopping back and forth in time, never here nor there, never getting to know the future with fresh, nonjudgmental eyes. I’ve been guilty of all three many times. I’ve also watched others fall victim to these mental traps, living in misery for weeks, months, even years, never seeing the pattern and figuring a way out. The first step to getting out of this mental misery is recognition. A person has to pause, notice, and admit to their mind’s tendency toward the past and recognize the type that’s holding them back. The second step is snipping the line—cutting the rope from behind to refocus forward.
This second step is easier said than done. Many times after working hard to sever a line, ten more ropes lasso around, tightly pulling a person back to regrets and falsely-lit memories. The past doesn’t want to be forgotten. The past doesn’t want to be let go, but letting go doesn’t have to be a sad or painful process like my mom’s annual end-of-summer ritual. Letting go can be beautiful—it can be enlightening and exciting. When releasing the past is done more so with love and curiosity than pain and swiftness, lessons and growth are born. I try to always make sense of my past. Whenever regrets or memories of certain times tie me down, I carefully loosen the knot by accepting what cannot be changed and viewing all parts of my life as necessary steps toward my future. When the past has been given the respect and attention it craves, it stops being so needy. Memories, like people, want to serve a purpose and they want to be understood. Once they feel understood, they can comfortably assimilate into the brain, and the desperate hold they have on our minds can be let go.
The third, and to me, the most important step is welcoming the future with fresh, optimistic, and open arms. Nobody wants to enter a relationship with someone who is ready with a list of comparisons to past relationships in their hands, and similarly no future wants to meet a person who is ready to compare and judge based off of the past. Rip up that list, shake out your arms, dance out your nerves about the unknown, and welcome the excitement of entering something new. Fear is to be expected when starting a new chapter—fear is only natural when going somewhere you’ve never gone before—but don’t let fear stop you from enjoying the future. Let the enthusiasm of a new day’s possibilities guide you instead.
I’m happy to report that mom has since stopped going to the beach to cry every September. She has swapped out her nostalgia for the past and fear over the season’s change for a brighter outlook ahead. Instead of focusing so heavily on the loss of summer, she has learned to welcome the gains of autumn with more open arms. Instead of red eyes and puffy cheeks, she now returns home in late September with bags of apples and rosy, wind-swept cheeks. She sees the setting sun for the beauty and lessons it holds rather than the regrets and fading memories slipping away. She sees the setting sun and knows tomorrow it will rise again, in a new and perhaps unexpectedly vibrant way, as long as she shows up to experience it.