Living In Past Tense

On August 12, 1997, I raised my right hand and swore to serve and protect my country. I was honorably discharged from the Air Force—by choice—a couple years later. It didn’t take long for me to determine the military was not for me. I grew up in the military, but being the one enlisted was a different story.

The military had its ups and downs. At the time, I felt more downs than ups. Because I was young, my thought process was simple: This ain’t for me so I’m out. It was best to let that chapter close. What I failed to process then was that one day I would wish to rewrite that chapter. I can recall phoning several recruiters and making a couple attempts to rejoin the military only to change my mind. What was the point in going back? The military wasn’t for me, that much I knew, but why would the feeling of missing out constantly recycle through my thoughts? An unsettling truth is had I stayed, I would’ve retired in 2017 and would have a check coming in for the rest of my life. I need to let that go, right? Can’t get that check now so there’s no point in entertaining it.

The thing about peeping through the window of the past is we see it as who we are now, not who we were at the time.

Seeing the past as who I am now, of course I’d make different decisions. It’s easy to evaluate the past from the perspective of who we are, not who we were. Knowing how fast 20+ years flew by, I realize I could’ve toughed it out. Shoot, I’ve endured situations 100x worse than what I experienced in the military. I am not who I was and I was not who I am. My perspective is different. I am older. I am wiser. I know life in a way I didn’t at 19. If I persist in looking back I will never move forward; I will remain stuck in what would’ve, could’ve, and should’ve been. I will never be able to see what is.

We look back at life as though we’re missing out on something. Why is it that we want to re-experience the heartbreaks, the job losses, the overdrawn bank accounts, the betrayals, the disappointments, the failures? Are those occurrences rewarding in some way? They have to be otherwise we wouldn’t keep going there. Right? Yeah, I didn’t think so either. But, really. Rehashing what happened, retelling the story, rewinding the tape is a way of saying life as we know it is incomplete. And truthfully, it will remain incomplete as long as we deem it as such. Those situations that hurt us in the past will continue hurting us in the present because we give it permission. Nothing changes unless something changes.

The constant theme in messages for me lately has been “Let go of the past, Julia.” None of the messages have been subtle; they have been blatant pay-attention-or-else messages from movies on TV to videos on YouTube to songs shuffling through my playlist. I am paying attention. You see, it’s not just my short stint in the military that plagues me but all of the starts without finishing. What if I had stayed in college the first time around? What if I had married him? Where would I be had I not moved from West Palm Beach, Orlando, Atlanta, Charleston, Columbia, and now possibly Austin? What if I still worked at ______? Where would my life be had I stopped “running” when times got hard? What if I decided that instead of that?

Life is full of what ifs, but what if you are exactly where you would’ve been regardless?

Life is never easy. We make choices that fit us where we are and as we are. Hindsight will screw you up because life always looks different with access to the future. We change. We grow. We do different. We cannot look back and expect to move forward.

Who you are today is not who you will be tomorrow nor is it who you were yesterday.

Your past begins right now. The only way to make it look different is if you do something different. There is absolutely nada you can do about what transpired last night, last week, or last year. You cannot undo what has been done–that only applies in technology, not in life. You will never move past the place you fail to move on from. If you replay the past, the past will play you.

As for me, I’m tired of recycling what has been. I’m tired of living in the space of what happened to me and the decisions I’ve made. I’ve come to the realization that I can change the story. I can feel different. I can be present in my present. I can change what and how I think with a little calibration. The past doesn’t have to control me. Just like the characters in my book Parallel Pasts, I know that the past can only hold me hostage with my permission. When I’m ready for a different picture, it’s up to me to change what I look at. Well, I’m ready to look at a new picture.

One of the ways Merriam-Webster defines the past is just gone or elapsed.

What can be done with something that is gone or elapsed? NOTHING.

We cannot retrieve time. Let us put forth a deliberate effort to let the past be the past. All we have is now. Do something with that or else…



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