Friday, December 29, 2006

Looking back

It seems to me that with 2006 rapidly coming to its close, the world’s media is spending a huge amount of time, energy…and probably expense… looking back at the events of the year. There’s also a good deal of speculation as to what 2007 will hold. We’re probably all doing the same thing in our own lives.

What was 2006 like? Well, there were the unforgettably wonderful moments, but there were also those which were horrendous and which I would never, ever, want to repeat. I suppose that most of us can say something similar. Perhaps there are also more people than I personally know who would like to hit out at someone and return as much hurt as he or she inflicted, to return an equal amount of suffering, to have that ‘eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’.

Perhaps, looking back, there are memories that are painful for completely different reasons. I know that one of my own is saying goodbye to a friend who has developed Alzheimer’s, and who recognised me when I met her, but probably won’t know me when I see her again. I look back with gratitude on the happy moments we shared over the years. I remember with sadness the brief, very concrete, simple conversation we had during the summer, when I would have given so much to sit and talk as we used to do. Yet it is a sadness tinged with gratitude because it gave me the chance to say goodbye, in a sense, to someone I know and love, but who can never again be the amazing person she used to be.

With the end of the year, there is a great deal said about the ‘healing of memories’. Frankly, I don’t think that memories are easily healed. It’s something that is a lot easier said than done. We all have our nightmares and our anger, resentment, fears and irritations. I suspect that, on January 1st 2007, I won’t be very different from who I was on 31st December 2006. However it also seems to me that the Devil is very keen to make sure that there is some negative baggage to carry over into the New Year, something to give him a head start.

Over the years, I’ve done a good deal of thinking about my own memories that needed to be healed. It occurred to me that something is only a memory because the actual event is finished. It’s real, but it’s also not real any longer. It’s history. The memory is only the hangover. Although it’s not easy to let go, the only one who is being hurt when I hold onto the anger, fear, horror and bitterness is me. It seems to me that clinging on to these just turns me into a cowering little puppy in a corner, unable to play and do all those fun things that a puppy is meant to do. I can never forget the sense of liberation when, on one occasion, I took a deep breath and, at the Sign of Peace at Mass, for the first time for many years, willingly shook hands with someone and made a deliberate decision to let go of the anger that she didn’t know was still wriggling its way deep inside. It was as if there had been steel bands around my chest, that suddenly burst and allowed me to breathe freely. The sense of joy and freedom were unforgettable and have stayed with me ever since.

It seems to me that the end of one year and the beginning of the next is an ideal opportunity for making a Sign of Peace and a new start. The memory might not go away, but I can give myself permission to let go of the pain. Mary must have had incredibly bad memories after the Crucifixion. Her greatness lay in letting go and in realising that her heart had not been broken irreparably, but had been broken open and sculpted into something even more beautiful.

If I look at my pain, there has always been a positive side, even if I have to admit that very grudgingly. God has used it to make me stronger, perhaps more sympathetic and understanding. Perhaps he’s allowed me to use my own suffering to help someone else in a similar position.

Perhaps, as 2007 dawns, God is giving me a choice: do I allow myself to feel burdened and crushed by the darkness, or do I look up, acknowledge that I’m carrying something I’d rather not, but see the sunrise ahead of me?

God bless,
Sr. Janet