Befriending My Past
For PD & TP
Who knows why we do the things we do the way we do them. Many years ago I left and I never came back. In a way, I have been doing that for many years. Building something beautiful, something that makes me happy, creating a place in which I could belong. And then, abandoning it. The desire to experience it all pulled me away. The need to be in all places called me. But I was neither there, nor here. Memories generated nostalgia, and nostalgia created apprehension and the type of anxiety you want to leave behind. It was unbearable. I associated whatever I created—relationships, connections—with shackles of a memory I could never regain. Not only that but also, one whom I could always return to. This contradiction became a fallacy that sustained me.
I got busy with becoming something. The farther I stretched time, the higher the goal: I have to become worthy of whatever sort of misguided value I had assigned to the elapsed time. Paradoxically, I neglected everything else. All the things I was fighting for, were abandoned: My friendships, my relationships, family, education, connections, all sort of reasons that make the human experience worthy. All the people invested in me and who loved me for no other reason than the time we shared together, cut off.
Who knows why I have come back to the town I called home for a third of my life. Who knows why I am writing this now from the library that sheltered me during my forming years. I never thought I would set foot here again, or rather, I never thought I would one day think I would never set foot here again. But something tells me, that as I begin a new chapter in my life—perhaps the most important—I needed to make peace with my past, to forgive myself, and to ask for forgiveness from the people who guided me and accompanied me once, and whom I never returned to.
I have started a one-year long journey—again. I’m traveling to India and a handful of other places to finish a novel I started two or three years ago. I want to write again, and give it one good, deserving attempt at learning to express myself before it’s too late and I become an unrealized soul in a sea of disappointment. I left Miami in the morning and made my first stop in Orlando. I came to my Alma mater, Rollins College. I haven’t been here in six or seven years, and everything looks the same: the yellow buildings, the green grass, the blue couch I used to takes naps… I remember how safe I felt. I loved learning. But I always felt like a visitor, as if somehow I didn’t belong. Except for the last year in which I felt like I was friends with all of my professors—or at least that’s how they made me feel.
So as I start this new journey, I wanted to get in contact with them. I wanted to thank them for making me who I am. And I wanted to apologize for taking so long to say it. I guess I was waiting until I could feel like I had made something out of myself. I went into the office and asked for the name of my writing teacher and the receptionist said, “I’m sorry he passed away two months ago.”
I started crying.
I felt so guilty for taking so long. I never had the chance to tell him how much he inspired me. The poor woman tried to console me. I asked for another professor—and damn it—she died too. Yesterday I felt so heartbroken and terribly guilty. They came to my graduation. After that day when I took off my cap and gown on the campus lawn, I never came back. We emailed each other a handful of times, but I always thought they will be here forever, at their offices, grading papers and drinking coffee. I thought one day soon I would become an accomplished writer and I could return and share with them. But I didn’t try to become a writer. Instead, I did something else. And what’s worse, I never came back to see how they were doing. One of the administration ladies told me stories about their last days and that they passed away in loving company. I didn’t get to tell them how much they meant to me.
And this is the problem: I forgot about the passage of time. I forgot that I will never be ready, or good enough, or worthy enough, but that I already am. That it is the now that matters. It is the present, the only moment in which action is crucial. Even when I preach it, I ditch it. I cannot longer be one to shield behind the expression “do as I say, but not as I do.” I cannot. Not anymore. I’m taking this moment as a wake-up call to remember that it is better to say it now than to wait for the perfect moment that might never come. I have all of my other professors whom I am reaching out to right now to thank them for making the person I am today. And even if I am not an accomplished writer yet—who cares—I am alive, and whatever piece of understanding I might have, some of it, I owe it to them. People say it is the things we don’t do that we regret at the end of our lives. I have a sackful of regrets, but I must have the courage to gracefully let them go and act now and to never miss the chance to tell someone how important they are. Because even if I think about them all of the time, it will never measure up to actually saying it out loud.
As I start this journey, it seems like the universe wanted me to heal this part of me first: to reconcile with my past, to befriend who I was. I will never understand how things work. I built a hardened exterior shielding me from connecting when connecting is the only reason why I am in this world. Coming home—one of many—has broken me. And as strange as it sounds, I don’t feel like I need to go to India anymore. I thought I needed to be far away to shatter so I could rebuild myself as I write my novel. But coming home has broken me a lot faster, and a lot swifter in a way I could not have anticipated. I’d always be thankful to my teachers, and I hope to honor them with every action I take in this life. I feel strong again. Maybe I needed to shed some tears. Maybe I needed to have a few beers with the friends who, slap on the wrist, don’t care how far I go. They’d always have a place for when I return. I feel strong again; strong to let people in again. Yesterday I heard on the radio that the strength of a man is best measured in his capacity to delicately hold a baby in his hands. Today I read in a poster at the Vietnamese restaurant that courage is doing the difficult things with grace. As I transit through this life, with my flaws and virtues, with the time I am given, I hope to be courageous enough to gracefully lower my shields, to tell the people that are important to me, how important they are, to never let time elapse so long that I don’t have a chance to thank you for walking with me. I hope to continue to be strong enough to hold a baby in my hands, because today I start writing again.
Additional commentary by a friend:
Guilt is a worthless emotion. It lets fear creep into your heart and mind and stops you from moving forward. Instead, I chose to look at my life experiences as lessons, evolution. We are all evolving. The key is to realize it. It can bring clarity or confusion. In the end, it’s our choice. I don’t have to measure up to any image of a societal success story. I already have attained great victories.