An elementary schoolyard wouldn’t be a schoolyard without the occasional skinned knee, argument over a ball or bully causing pain. These unpleasant situations of our past are fortunately in a place where they can’t harm us anymore. But how do we stop their memories from hitting us in the face like an oversized dodge ball? Where do we find the strength?
I recently ran into an old acquaintance from elementary school. To say we were friends would be inaccurate, but to say we were enemies would be to go too far. I didn’t care for this person back in the day because he tormented me, but that was when we were children who didn’t know any better.
I’d had many fantasies about my revenge on my once childhood nemesis. They ranged from a simple fistfight to re-enacting the drag race scene from the movie, Grease. I’d spend hours a day thinking about our cars racing through the twists and turns of large cement coulees. I would always speed across the finish line first, and win Olivia Newton John as my prize. The only problem with my fantasy was that neither my opponent nor I was old enough to drive.
The recent encounter with my schoolmate was very pleasant, but something about the situation was unsettling. I was uncertain if it was confusion from the change in our relationship, or a feeling of accomplishment from finally being able to have a conversation that didn’t involve having a, “Kick me,” sign attached to my back.
When we parted ways, I began thinking about the days of elementary school. There were memories of monkey bars, softball games and cafeteria food. But then, a faded and blurred image of the pain my schoolmate had caused me began to rejuvenate until it became clear and damp with newness.
The pain didn’t make me angry or depressed, but I was aware of its presence. For days, I cautiously carried it around like an un-potted cactus filled with sharp thorns capable of drawing blood. I kept it at arm’s length, but observed its growth.
It made no sense to me that there was still pain from over twenty-five years ago. I thought I had grown, become more secure with myself and learned that the past is the past. But even though I tried to block out the memories, the insecurity, and the hurt, drops of each kept seeping back into my conscience the same way rain does through a small crack in a ceiling.
My obsession with the past absorbed all of my energy to the point that I couldn’t find the strength to communicate with others. My mom even pointed out my mind’s absence during breakfast one day.
“Why are you so quiet?” she asked. “You’re usually giving me orders this time of day.”
“You’re the one who is usually giving orders,” I responded. “And I just have a lot on my mind.”
I told my mom about everything; the encounter with my past, the pain and the confusion of its re-emergence. She listened attentively and nodded her head up and down like she fully understood. When I was finished, she stood and looked straight ahead.
“When I feel pain, I take two aspirin,” she said. “But you’re talking about a different kind. You might want to try Aleve.”
I will give my mom the benefit of the doubt and assume that she was being insightful, because her words did give me the strength to realize that there are different types of pain. I hadn’t been thinking about the pain that someone else had caused me. It was the pain that I had caused or ever wanted to cause others.
A fight broke out in my head. Reasoning argued with Fear, while Shame punched Ego in the stomach. Remorse was the final victor.
I have forgiven the pain from my past, but am aware of its power. My knowledge will hopefully prevent me from ever using it to hurt someone else. If my judgment and memory ever lapses, the sharpness of weakness will stab me. But for now I look positively forward, and know that in our past there are lessons. In our future, there is strength.