What if there was a way to recapture the most precious moments of life that you have lost? A loved one who has passed on, a broken relationship that ended badly, a parent who abandoned you or a traumatic event resolved to make you feel whole?
I think about these things and often wonder how do we actually heal emotionally? What is that moment in which the painful moments of the past are re-threaded together to resolve that knot within ourselves that lingers?
This recapturing of the past is a recurring theme in my books. I often have characters searching for a way to fix something that's broken inside them. Unfortunately, like in life, my protagonists try to fix the wrong thing. They look for an external solution rather than fixing themselves.
I've been thinking about this theme for a good many years now, but recently I heard a song that gave me hope. I was listening to U2's new song, "The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)" and heard Bono sing "Everything that I ever lost now has been returned." I heard that phrase and a light went off inside me. The line of lost innocence and opportunities all pulled together in a nice and simple phrase made me smile. Bono's singing about his hearing The Ramones for the first time and how their music awoke within him a universe of possibilities. Decades later, for better or worse, U2 is still cranking out new songs. I bottled up that feeling that went through me like lightning on hearing "everything lost now has been returned" and have been thinking about why that line mean so much to me.
Back when I was in my early '20s, I was in a serious relationship that went sour (and that's putting it kindly). I was a mess, looking for all the wrong things in a relationship, trying to find my way, hoping that a soul mate would help me fix myself. I look back now and I smile a bit at how naive I was and what I didn't know. But that's the beauty of life, I had a chance to repair the damage I did to myself in that relationship and to offer an apology to the woman I loved. When I remember all the pain, the suffering and how horrible the relationship fell apart, I remember thinking that there would never be a time in which all could be healed. I could have done many things here: I could have blamed her, blamed myself and just allowed all of those feelings to fester and sour my future relationships.
However, I chose a different path. About 7 or 8 years after the relationship ended that my path intersected with the woman I had been engaged to. I remember that time quite vividly. There had been a moment in time in which I thought that only that relationship would be "the one" for me and that I would never find happiness again. But I was wrong. I was wrong not only about finding only one soul mate, but in thinking that the damage would never heal and that peace and forgiveness could not be achieved.
By writing online and speaking on the phone, we were able to put to rest any demons that remained from the time we had spent together. I realized that I could not go back in time and fix the horrible things I had said or the things that I had done, but that I could apologize and make amends. That she could do the same with me and that we had a choice:
We could let go and move on.
It took many years and each of us worked things out in our own way, but we did it. A moment in time was resolved and fixed. I can't tell you how many nights I had cried and been upset about losing that relationship and regretting how poorly I had acted. But with time and working on myself, there came a time in which resolution could take place.
When I look back at my life so far, I see that there are major checkpoints in which big events took place and I felt a great sense of loss. A moment in which I thought I would never have an opportunity to right the wrongs, to see someone I loved so dearly ever again and that fear that a moment is permanent and cannot be undone troubled me. There are moments in time in which I can't undo what I did or was done to me, but each of us has a choice: We can find a way to heal and to move onward. In a way, there is a way to have everything lost returned to us again.
When my grandfather passed away back in 2003, I took it badly. My father had not been in my life since I was a little kid and my grandfather played catch with me, taught me to drive and was there for me in ways that my father never was. I lived with my grandparents until the time I moved out after grad school so in many ways my grandfather was a father figure to me. I didn't agree with a lot of his beliefs, but he was a good man. When I learned that he had died, I kept thinking back to that last moment I had with him. It had been a week before. We had celebrated my birthday at my grandparents' house. When I left, I said goodbye, kissed him on the cheek and told him that I loved him.
That would be the last time that I would see him alive. Until today, I don't care how angry I am at someone I love, I still tell them that I love them before I leave the house. I know it's an odd thing, but I don't know if that moment might be the last I see them again. It's an unfounded belief, but one that I stick to nonetheless.
After my grandfather passed away, what hurt and upset me so much is that my wife was pregnant with my son and I had wanted so much for him to meet my grandfather. But that was not to be. Two months later, my grandmother passed away and two months after that my father-in-law passed away. Three devastating deaths in five months. The grief that our family dealt with during that year is difficult to put in words. When life isn't stable, you look for reasons, meanings, shadows and to understand why. Why is this happening? Why?
During this difficult time, I remember painting my son's room one night by myself. My wife had gone out with some friends. Several months had passed since my grandfather had passed and I was finishing up the painting. My wife and I had decided to paint our son's room like the forest in Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are." Beautiful sky, with hand painted stars, trees and lots of leaves around the room. It took us a long time to hand paint all of that.
While I painted, I was listening to some music and randomly Andre Bocelli's song "Time to Say Goodbye" came on. I tried to keep painting, but I couldn't. I started crying, thinking of my grandfather and how I missed him and how upset and unfair it was that he could not meet my unborn son. But that was not to be. Yet an interesting thing happened. I cried and then let it all go. My hurt, anger, fear and loss was all bottled up inside me. I released it and knew that acceptance was the only path forward. After I did that, there were other songs that helped me overcome my grief. Peter Gabriel's "I Grieve" was hard to listen to but it helped me deal with my feelings during that extremely rough year.
When my son was born, we were sad that three extremely integral people in our family had passed away and he would not be able to meet them, but the stories we told him, the pictures and videos we shared were a means to connect the dots and bridge the gap between the void and having them hear. There are ways in which I am my grandfather and my grandfather and my wife is like her father. Behaviors, how we deal with conflict and our interests, in part, are shaped by those who raised us. The fact that I make my own spaghetti sauce is because my Nan taught me how. Now when I make this on a Sunday, I'm teaching my children how to do it.
Though they cannot be there in physical form, their influence lives through me and I am passing on what I have learn to my children. That is comforting to me. To know that although people have died, and I don't know what happens after, that there is closure and connection.
I cherish that, knowing that that there is hope. No matter if someone leaves or dies, that there is a way for the finality to be erased and for that person to return--either physically (in the example of a breakup) or through stories for those who have died. My son has often asked my wife to retell him stories about what his Pop Pop did when the Eagles went into the Super Bowl back in 1980 and I smile.
There's that small child inside of me who wants so much for the world to be right and good, but I've seen such bad things happen and so much pain and suffering all around. Yet, when the time is right, there can be a reversal of the past and what was lost can be found. For me, the joy in that moment is intense. Seeing a long, long friend or remembering back to those who have died brings me such happiness because I realize now that not all is lost. That hope is something that drives me forward during dark times.
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Ron Vitale is the author of the Cinderella's Secret Diaries series who hopes that his own children will overcome any obstacles in their way and find their own happily ever after.