Writing by Sophie van Bastelaer // Photograph by Sara Giorgio
“You’re young. You have so much of your life ahead of you for new things and new adventures. So let the past stay in the past.”
I have never, never been able to understand why, when loved ones or cheesy TV shows or overzealous drunk bar patrons urge me to “move forward” or “embrace change” or “look to the future” or “take charge of your destiny” or “discover what lies ahead,” they are also always inherently telling me to leave things behind.
Why does moving forward have to mean leaving things behind? Why does succeeding in moving on or moving ahead or carving out a future have to mean letting things go? I’m not necessarily referring to experiences, which do end, or apartments, whose leases do expire, or the tangible household/school/nostalgic objects that logically must be discarded–I do have a hard time letting those things go, too, since I imbue emotional significance into a ridiculous amount of things–but I mean the things that aren’t experiences or apartments or tangible objects. I mean mostly the people I’ve grown to love, and the lessons I’ve learned about myself, and the memories I have created. Those aren’t things I am allowed to take with me unless they fit in perfectly with Future Sophie–but of course, since we can’t ever know who Future Sophie will be, these people and lessons and memories are automatically a liability and can’t come with me on the journey. They don’t belong. Despite the fact that I feel hollow and lost without them, they don’t have a place in my future, says everyone. I’m not allowed to want them with me and I’m certainly not allowed to hold onto them in my heart. Because being a grown up and moving on and being successful means letting everything else go. It means convincing yourself and everyone else that their minds and hearts must become carefree and refreshed and clean and new every time they start a new chapter. It means, I guess, assuming that no one is as nostalgic as I am, or as dedicated to what they’ve cultivated, or as determined to fight for the ones they care about. And those aren’t assumptions I think are fair or accurate.
I understand the perils of living entirely in the past. I know that growing and learning are so crucial, and I try to make new experiences and embrace change to whatever degree I can. But common discourse tells me that none of efforts to move on or self-improve mean anything if I am not completely cleansing myself of what I had and who I was before. I’m told I will be unhappy if I leave school without flushing everything away, if I go onto the next chapter of my life with strings attached; but no one else seems to understand how painful the lack of strings would feel, how even if on paper things look great for me, my heart would hurt every day, that I’d try and fail to not think about those I’d been encouraged for no reason to leave behind, that I’d be the walking epitome of an empty shell, having been forced to give everything up by an obnoxiously cheery conviction, a determinedly present mantra, that told me it was for “my own good.”
Everyone likes to goodnaturedly rag on me for how emotional I am. I am often ridiculed for the power I believe love holds. But the reality for me is that love is the most important thing. Do I want to succeed? Sure. Do I want to live in a rustically beautiful house? Absolutely. Do I want to have an amazing life? Of course. But economic success means nothing to me if I can’t share it with someone I love, and if I can’t be proud of myself for the emotional progress I’ve made or accept the negative qualities that make me who I am. Flushing things away for the sake of “progress” and “moving on” is counterintuitive to me, especially when I happen to have a very good idea of what makes me happy, what makes me thrive, what makes me grow, and when those are things that are already present in my life.
“To move on, you have to let things go.” You can’t be who you were before, you can’t love who you did before, because if you do then you risk never changing, never fully becoming who you were meant to be. There’s this idea that discarding things means making your life easier. But unless your relationships are destructive, or the lessons you’ve learned are completely fruitless, or the memories you’ve acquired are all negative, I cannot wrap my head around that concept.
It’s not about having emotional crutches or being able to fall back on comfort–it’s about making the things I’ve built really mean something, about recognizing who has made a hugely positive impact on my life, about keeping happy memories happy. You might disagree with my philosophy, and I know I am a hopeless romantic, but I am quite stubborn when it comes to my convictions and I will no longer let other people tell me how to live and who to love and what needs to happen in order for me to be “successful.” I’m tired of listening to songs that tell me in romantic harmonies to “let go of the past” and “move on and up” and “leave things behind and become who you’re supposed to be”–I am who I am, and I love what I love, and that ought to be enough for me, so don’t tell me it’s not! I’m tired of other people informing me about what I’m supposed to consider important or beneficial to my future or my wellbeing. I want to live in the now, and right now, these are the people or experiences or memories make me happy and I will not discard them simply because I’m moving, or starting a new job, or in some other way making a change. I’m tired of this age of waste we live in, where things get thrown away because they might not be directly relevant to our current project, thrown away for purportedly bigger and better things. So I think it’s time we start letting ourselves be picky about what we take with us and what we leave behind. Something that exists “in the past” does not, by virtue of its being past, have to be thrown away or forgotten. We can make our own choices, our own nuances about what stays important and what we prioritize. If this is a mistake, it’s my own mistake, and I’ll learn from it, and I’ll take that lesson on with me into my future, ignoring all the cliches telling me I should leave it behind in order to move on.[share]