EVERY TURN ALONG THE WAY during my walk down the familiar paths of my alma mater awakened a long-ago memory of a special friend, an inspiring mentor, a new epiphany, a well-earned accomplishment—or a successful practical joke! Even recollections of past disappointments had a sweetness to them. But before I continued down this road too far, I caught myself. I was beginning to feel a sense of loss and grief for the death of my life-in-the-past. I realized that my thoughts had strayed into passing judgment on this memorable place, making comparisons between my college years and the present.
Rather than being drawn into deep and sorrowful nostalgia for all the friends and traditions that had gone by the wayside or had considerably changed, I asked myself, Does this place have to stay the same to retain its luster for me? Should I yearn for the perfect and illusive institution that I thought it had been in the past, or should I find a way to fulfill my real need to experience, in a more lasting way, the nurturing and inspiring ideas that this institution had offered me?
Gone were those close friends, inspiring individuals, and hardy assignments that had stretched my abilities. But were they really gone? No. I still felt their essence deep within me—a treasure always available that I could draw on in the present. The earnestness in studying long hours to complete a college project—I can apply that earnestness again. Kind words of encouragement I had received then—I can pass them along to others now. The strength of character I had admired in those no longer in my experience—I can still hold them dear to me and even live those qualities in my own life.
I began to understand the importance of appreciating but not idolizing the good I had experienced in the past. I realized that because the source of all good is infinite God, we don't need to look back longingly to anything in our past. Instead we can look with expectant eyes for new and ongoing expressions of that good in our life now. I was reminded of these lines from a favorite hymn: "For all of good the past hath had/Remains to make our own time glad (Christian Science Hymnal, No. 238).
Nostalgia, I saw, was just one of memory's snares. But another one I realized I needed to deal with was regret. Some recent Bible study brought new insights. For instance, a few brief lines in a poem by Estelle Gershgoren Novak on Lot's wife stood out to me: "She turns in longing/and is transformed/into the salt of her tears" (Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues, June 2003, p. 182).
I BEGAN TO UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE OF APPRECIATING BUT NOT IDOLIZING THE GOOD I HAD EXPERIENCED IN THE PAST.
Lot's wife had been turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back toward the falling cities of Sodom and Gomorrah after specifically being told not to (see Gen. 19:17, 24—26). I had learned in my Bible studies courses in college that some Bible stories give a poetic description instead of an entirely literal account of events. Also, because of the limited vocabulary in ancient Hebrew, Old Testament writers sometimes embellished their stories to help carry their full message. This could very well have been the case in the account of Lot's wife. Since she had looked back with such great sorrow and regret, poetically or metaphorically speaking, a flood of salty tears overwhelmed her. The description of her turning into a pillar of salt epitomized the depth of her sorrow.
I realized that I, too, like Lot's wife, had become salty over some events in my personal history and that instead I needed to transform them. As Mary Eddy noted in her autobiography Retrospection and Introspection, "The human history needs to be revised, and the material record expunged" (p. 22). I decided to desalinate my thought by going back to the very beginning of my memories and see them in a more spiritual light. As I did, I discovered instances in my life that I had usually viewed as tragic, full of misfortune, indiscretion, or lacking in guidance. These memories, this accumulated human history, I felt had molded my identity quite a bit, and not for the good.
I took the time to remember as many of these past experiences as I could and then correct them in my thought with the spiritual fact that only good had ever been going on in my life. As I prayed to rid myself of all these regrets, I began to recall individuals and opportunities at different stages of my life that had served as guides, protectors, or that had inspired me. By the time I finished this mental exercise, I felt like a new person—refreshed, rich in spirit, and dearly loved. I realized how much tenderness, compassion, wisdom, instruction, and guidance had always been at my side in one form or another at every instance of my human history. The source of all good, divine Love, had always been there, whether I realized it at the time or not. And I felt more certain than ever that goodness would always be the only true history of my life.
As the Psalmist said, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life" (Ps. 23:6). Now when feelings of syrupy nostalgia and salty regret bubble up in my thought, I use those times as opportunities to discover the good that was always present and remains to bless me now.
Yvonne Renoult is the registrar for the Christian Science nurses training program at Arden Wood, a Christian Science nursing facility in San Francisco, California.
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