Tethered to the past

Tethered to the past: the ropes can keep us safe or tie us in knots

Tethers or connections? The past is an integral part of our future. When we write memoirs, memories, or histories that create a positive connection with the past, it grounds us. When the past colors our existence to the point that the present and future are drained of reason, it’s a tether to be broken–or at least loosened up a bit.

How are You Tethered to the Past?

There’s an apt German expressions for those times when you are torn about an event: “One eye laughs; the other cries.” When we reminisce and remember the events and stories of the past, we often experience that dichotomy. It’s hard to say whether we’re tethered to the past by fond memories or ghosts of better times.

Even the painful memories can be tough to let go of. Added up, they account for a huge chunk of life.

My dear friend and across-the-street neighbor recently decided to sell her house. She agonized over whether or not to leave her home of 27 years. Her house is full of comforting memories. But, it also has a lot of reminders of happier times.

Let’s face it. Looking back isn’t always a joyful sojourn in yesteryear. There are times when we look back and long for the people who are no longer with us, the innocence we possessed, not to mention rolling back the ravages that time has inflicted on our appearances.

I know. I sometimes look at pictures of my parents and feel a tug in my gut. I still miss them. A lot. I long for their advice and companionship. The past, that Never-Never-Land of What-Could-Have-Been, beckons. The memories that warm me on some days push me into melancholy on others. If I don’t shake myself out of my reverie (or if the dog or the kids don’t do it for me), I find myself tethered to the past—at least in an emotional sense. Sadness creeps in, shrouding my day.

Tethered to the past or anchored

Are you tethered to the past by an anchor that drags you down, or one that keeps you from getting lost at sea?

Anchors and Letting Go

There’s a physical exercise that makes the concept of releasing the past very real. You place one foot firmly on a mark on the floor. That mark is the past, and your foot anchors you there. With the rest of your body, you reach to see how far you can get without moving your foot from that mark. Assuming that there is something tempting out of reach, like a cookie or new job, you quickly realize the importance of letting go of that mark.

As much as I like the exercise, I don’t always.

For one thing, anchors aren’t all bad. Although they can’t still the waters, they keep us from being lost at sea. They remind us where we wanted to stay. They help us from getting lost or unintentionally drifting into danger.

On the other hand, anchors have hoists. They’re not constantly schlepped around. They’re dropped when it’s helpful and raised when you need to move on.

What Lies Ahead Means More if You Know What Lies Behind.

Another German word helps the metaphor. Rücksicht, taken literally, means backward sight. But what it actually means is concern or consideration.

We don’t move forward in a vacuum. We move forward from a starting point. If we completely disconnect ourselves from the past, our journey forward has less meaning. It’s like a silhouette instead of a landscape. It’s missing context.

That’s why, for example, old friends are so comfortable to be around. You don’t have to explain back stories or worry that they’ll misconstrue things. They understand you and your history.

Keeping the Anchor and Losing the Ball and Chain.

It’s a balance isn’t it? We want to be tethered to the past, but not haunted by it. Which will take us to Part 2—When and How to Let Go. Stay tuned….

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