“Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.” -Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere
We have a tendency to associate healing with trying to mend what happened in the past—we tend to focus all of our energy into making sense of what happened. We dive deep into the pain and then stay there. We often crave some sense of closure and believe that said closure will be the final knot on the box enclosing all of our pain and heartbreak. And though we think that focusing on the pain will help us make peace with the past, perhaps the reason that healing is so hard is because we forget to focus on the now. We forget that we still have a life to live—a life that is waiting for us. We spend so much time looking back that we start to feel stuck. Our whirlwind of thoughts are all centered on what we could have done differently, or whether we could still try again. We wonder if it’s too late to fix everything and start again. We wonder if maybe this was all a misunderstanding, and that by analyzing each memory reel one-by-one, we will be able to solve the missing piece. We will be able to piece our heart back together by running back to yesterday. And I think this is what makes healing so difficult—this tendency to try to rewind time, rather than to look ahead and discover what will come next.
This coping mechanism of focusing on the hurt and the pain of the past is not by any means bad or wrong—it’s only human to focus on our heartbreak or our loss because the feeling is so all-consuming. Pain is rarely silent. But sometimes this tendency to stay stuck in time is what prevents us from truly moving on. And the idea of truly moving on is daunting—we don’t know what is to come on the other side of the bridge, or if we will ever reach comfortable, solid land again. And if we are honest with ourselves, most of the time, we don’t actually want to know what lies on the other side. We would rather go back in time to our old familiar story, where life was cozy and comforting, and to a time when our hearts had not yet been exposed to such pain. But after a little while, rereading our last chapter over and over again and continuing to create a home in memory lane will only hold us back. It will only prevent us from opening our hearts up to the miracles and love stories and hope that is waiting for us just up ahead.
Of course a part of healing is working through our past—of course we can acknowledge that what we had was remarkably beautiful and that we lost something special—something that meant more than the world to us. And of course feeling this great loss will come with tears and long dreary days and nights. Of course we will have to go through the very real grief that comes with loss.
But a very crucial, defining element of healing is rooted in what we do next. Healing does not happen in the past. Healing happens in the today and the tomorrow. True healing is investing our heart in the new narrative we intend to write—the next story we intend to tell. We heal by creating a new beginning, starting from precisely where we are today.
We begin to heal the moment we approach the ashes after the fire has been smothered and realize we have no other choice than to walk away. And in that moment, we realize that we have to start from scratch, we have to build a new home—a home that must be constructed with different materials than we started out with. We have to reimagine a new kind of happiness that is composed of these unfamiliar materials. We have to view our life through a new and different lens—a lens that accepts that though much is lost, creation, and new beginnings are still more than possible.
Sometimes we have to accept that the doors we were counting simply don’t exist for us, and that we need to redirect our plans and begin searching for windows. Sometimes we have to see that maybe what we expected out of life isn’t what life had in store for us. We have to find a place where we can observe our memories yet avoid spending too much time living in them. We have to be brave enough to hope that the present and the future will be just as good as the past. And when we realize that we have so much space for beauty and goodness coming for us, we reclaim our lives. We have to learn to march forward in life, with hope by our side.
And perhaps our hearts are made of clay, and perhaps each person who comes into our life leaves a little footprint or indentation on the soft surfaces of our hearts. And though the initial indentation may fade, a shadow of this footprint stays imprinted, fossilizing in time, transforming us for the long run. Perhaps it’s okay to take a little bit of each person with us as we go. Maybe moving on isn’t so much about forgetting, but about remembering the feelings we felt—remembering the good parts of what we had. And maybe we can learn to leave some of the pain and the hardships behind and carry only the goodness with us.
And even as we begin again and take that first baby step forward, it’s okay to reminisce sometimes. It’s okay to tiptoe down memory lane and bask in all of those moments when our hearts felt full and we felt so incredibly loved. It’s okay to find little pieces of old memories in this new chapter. It’s okay to still feel a little warm spot in our heart when we think of them. It’s even okay to miss them. Because healing doesn’t mean forgetting.
We can only hold on so tightly to other humans. But the good ones will stay. So when we lose people, it’s okay to let them go. It’s okay if they are just one verse of our song. It’s okay if when the song ends, they are no longer ours. Sometimes we have to lose the most special parts of our life so that we have space for new beginnings. And though it’s hard, in time, we do learn how to live with loss. We learn how to live without them. We learn how to create a new version of happiness, one in which they remain part of who we are and who we have become but no longer have a role in who we decide to be next.
And in time, we will feel a sense of relief when the world feels a little bit lighter. And we begin to notice subtle shifts in ourselves—we smile more, we notice things like the smell of our coffee, we enjoy a song that used to make us sad.
And eventually, we will find ourselves looking back at our past with a new warmness and fondness—a new sense of gratitude for the short song that we once shared. And we find that perhaps we are ready for a different song—a song of a different style. A song with a fresh melody. And we will feel an eager sense of excitement about discovering and composing this new song.
The way forward may be new and unfamiliar, and at times, it may be filled with loneliness. But if we keep going, our pain will be replaced by curiosity. Small sparks of color will replace the blinding gray. And our perspective will slowly shift and transform. We will finally begin to see that although we endured a great loss, we still have so many special people and moments left to live for. We still have so many new memories to create. We have a whole life to fill with color.
And in time we will see that the world is full of new beginnings. Twists and turns. Wonder and awe. And we’ll be thankful that we didn’t give up. Because we will have made it to the other side of the bridge, and the view is quite astounding.