New Things, Better Things (A Reprise): Words for When You're Stuck in the Past
In March, two friends and I were set to visit the red canyons and sandstone arches of southeastern Utah. We were to fly into Denver, rent a car, take a 5 hour roadtrip through the Rockies to the tiny red rock valley town of Moab.
A flawless plan, save for it is March in Colorado, and a Tuesday of sunshine can quickly dissolve into a Wednesday blizzard that shuts down the city of Denver, its airport, and the interstates that traverse the plains of Colorado. And that it did, one of the biggest snowstorms to hit the state in years.
Our flights were canceled. Twice. Our Airbnb was non-refundable. And so began the Great American Roadtrip.
We listened to the album of a country crooner as we stared down the grey river of interstate for 1,500 miles. “You can’t steer no boat by looking back at the wake,” he sings.
We are six thick months into the new year, but I’ll admit that for the first several months of 2019, I couldn’t stop looking back to 2018.
The year was sweet, like a whiff of honeysuckle. When I was young, we used to pick blackberries on my grandparents’ land in small town Louisiana, until the honeysuckle grew wild and choked out all the blackberry brambles. It can be sweet, but it can also choke.
That was 2018. A relationship that I hoped to mend ended without even the dignity of goodbye, like turning the page in the middle of a novel only to realize the rest of the book is bound with blank, empty pages. No resolve to the story. An ending that never really ended.
That’s been difficult to accept—this story that ended with “and then they never talked again”— and so, mostly, I have ignored it. The months have passed—six, then ten, now twelve. A new year has come, spring has thawed out winter, summer has brought bright green leaves to the once-bare tree limbs.
But while I’ve tried to convince myself that I am looking forward, staring straight at the wide open interstate ahead, I spent so many months still sneaking peeks into the rearview mirror every few seconds, not quite accepting that the road behind me is, in fact, behind me.
But this story isn’t the whole of my story, only a minor plotline amongst the greater. Even so, ignoring it won’t erase it like the stroke of the delete key. It may be a minor plotline, but it is a plotline woven tight around the greater story of my life for several years now.
I can’t ignore it.
But I tried for quite a while. And this attempt to ignore kept me from the blank page for so much of the new year. Because what can I write when I am only halfway up the mountain, still thick in the dark of the evergreens, miles away from the treeline break? What takeaway is there, a “lesson learned” that can offer a handful of hope to the eyes that read these words?
That’s been what’s kept me from writing for so long, the truthful admission: I just don’t know.
Because life is beautiful like a sunset glowing red over the canyons and also complicated like an ending with no goodbye. It’s a winter night when The Fray’s “How to Save A Life” comes on shuffle in your car and a roadtrip across the country with your best friend after a freak snowstorm cancels your flights. It’s looking for that familiar face in every battered black Honda that pulls up at the stoplight next to you.
So what exactly does looking ahead entail? Acceptance.
Accepting the story as it is, currently. Accepting that whenever you start to favor a character in Harry Potter, our queen J.K. Rowling will likely kill them off. Accepting that life isn’t always neat and tidy like a newly-cleaned kitchen smelling of limoncello scents from Bath & Body Works. Accepting that we are all still very much in the middle of the greater story, and that’s what this whole life is anyways—the middle of the story, the three days in the tomb.
Acceptance. But an acceptance that isn’t wrapped in hopelessness like a bacon-wrapped steak (although bacon is good and hopelessness is not, so maybe that simile is faulty). An acceptance that believes in new things, better things. An acceptance that turns away from the year past, that looks at the dirt under your boots—the now—knowing that there is yet more trail ahead—the thinning of the trees, the shift from dirt to scree, the break above the treeline, the vista that hits your heart like a piece of good news.
“But the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning,” goes the line from C.S. Lewis’ Weight of Glory. The vista, the sweeping views—that is yet still ahead.
We may not be there yet, but that doesn’t mean that the trail is without its beauty or the story without adventure and healing and margaritas. The cross may come before the crown and tomorrow may be a Monday morning, but we are still moving forward. Still learning how to be human beings with hearts that feel and love and break and dream. Still looking ahead, or at least trying our best to look ahead. New things, better things—that’s what’s coming, for all of us.
Windrose Magazine is your guide to navigating life in your twenties through a collection of essays, interviews, and advice that will inspire you to chart your own life course, free of comparison.
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