As I closed the door last night and sat down on my couch, a wave of relief flooded over me, just knowing that the longstanding conflict (never mind the details) between myself and my otherwise close friends and neighbors would soon be over. Throughout the entire past year of negotiations, anger, frustration, and sometimes even complete animosity, I knew that we were about to close a chapter in our relationship, solve the outstanding issues, and move on. The past would soon become just that — the past — and we would be able to go forward and rebuild the future once again.
That meeting reminded me of another recent chapter I had thankfully closed successfully. It was with a family in my neighborhood whose dog chomped on my leg when I was running.
The way our closure was attained created within me, and I am sure them as well, a feeling of relief and camaraderie. We used an amazing mediator, Baruch Efrati, faced the problem, dealt with it openly, and resolved the conflict. Both sides were given a chance to be upset (a very important part of any conflict), to air their opinions, to make some requests, l’vater (to concede some points), and, finally, to make amends.
What confirmed for me that the past had been resolved properly was the fact that it was so clearly the past. When I recently went for a run and bumped into the owner out walking his dog, even though the dog was extremely excited to see me (maybe he was in the mood for some desert), I pretended not to notice, and so did he — because that’s just the right thing to do. We waved, and nodded a good morning to each other, and, well, the rest is history.
In both of these situations, when the conflict arose, I was unsure whether or not I was doing the right thing. I knew that I needed to weigh my actions carefully, since whatever decisions I would make would affect my life, for better or worse. The idea of being in the midst of a conflict makes people uneasy, and it’s a huge strain on their emotions; often for for many different reasons, but sometimes simply due to the uncertainty of how things will be resolved.
I am sure that at one time or another, you’ve all been given the advice to “just let things go,” to stop thinking about something, and/or to just let bygones be bygones. Friends and family know the emotional strain that results from a conflict, and they just want to see you be done with it all. Well, I don’ t know who these bygones are, but let me tell you: They are never just bygones, let alone gone. If we ever want to experience any kind closure, we need to go through all of the correct stages and come out the other side.
Unfortunately, closure isn’t always possible, and the past oftentimes continues to weigh heavy on our lives, in the present and beyond. Past events can turn into heavy baggage that, left unchecked (pun intended), becomes burdensome and tiring.
Divorce is one of these types of conflicts where each side is basically struggling to come out with their head above water. Usually, by the end, any good feelings that may have remained before the divorce are long gone (probably to where the bygones are). To completely be at peace with your ex-spouse requires a lot of forgiving and forgetting, but even more so, accepting and fixing all the situations where you each felt you were wronged.
I realized today that I was still carrying this one bag around with me unknowingly. Following the news of the horrific car accident that killed eight members of the Attias family, I felt a huge weight on my mind and in my heart the entire day. I experienced a constant urge to visit their surviving daughter and their friends and family, and to tell them the one thing I thought could be any consolation. I wanted to reassure them that the present eventually does become the past, and that usually the past hurts less than the present.
I wasn’t surprised by my strong reaction to today’s events, but I was jolted a bit by the realization that I could still be hurled back into the memory of a similar car accident I was personally involved in many years ago. The difference is how it all ended: I survived, they didn’t. The deciding factor was that instead of flipping into a dry, rocky wadi, the car I was in ten years ago flipped into a ditch filled with freshly fallen snow, which cushioned the car and reduced the impact and trauma.
It’s no wonder they call it baggage — carrying these things around with us is no easy task. Sometimes we try to relieve ourselves of the excess weight and attempt to pass it on or check it, but to no avail: either it gets sent to the wrong destination, or the flight has already left, or we realize that we prefer to carry it around with us for now — just because it’s easier that way, surplus weight and all.
While I was typing up my thoughts last night, my teenage daughter walked by and saw the title of my post. “Nuh uh, Mom,” she said in response to the question. “Sometimes there are emotional and even physical scars that can’t be erased, no matter how much you want them to be. Look at the scars you have, Mom,” she said, pointing to my knee. “And look at mine.” She pointed to a small scar she had gotten after being hurt by someone in school a couple of years ago.
I knew she was right.
Coming to peace with our past, resolving our existing conflicts, and just learning to live in the present — it’s no easy task, but if I’m going to be carrying around all that baggage, let’s hope that it at least matches what I’m wearing in my life at the time. I hate to clash.