I was talking with a friend the other night who was grieving the loss of his past self. Really, he was wishing he could be that person again. He said, “I was my best self, and I don’t know who I am anymore.” This is a valid form of grief, the loss of our former selves. It’s a form of grief that we often don’t pay much mind to or make much space for.
I lived in this space for a long time. I would remember the past, ideal me—the one armored with a 50 liter backpack, hopping from train to train through Europe, soaking up life like rain to dry soil. I saw her in my mind vividly, and I wept because I missed her.
I was ashamed of who I had become and the decisions I made which betrayed us both. I was afraid I could never become her again. Her free, careless spirit mocked me while I sat in the prison of my current self.
Hearing this friend struggle in this same battle prompted me to write a letter to my past self.
Dear sun-kissed, wide-eyed past self,
I see you standing in front of me clearly. I see your carefree smile and high tops worn down from exploration. I see the spacious, free land outside of you that has yet to be invaded by harsh, concrete walls of protection. I see the purity in which you meet and dance with life.
I see the purity in which you meet and dance with life.
I also see what is to come. I see what you will have to face. I see who you will have to face. It breaks my heart in ways that leave me silent. I think the time has come to reconcile with you—to untether your shadow from me and to let you go.
First, there’s a few things I’d like to say. I never took the time to celebrate you—to celebrate how you maneuvered the many arrows which tried to pierce your heart while you just kept on singing. You turned our grief into a painting we could hang in the museum of us.
I never took the time to thank you—for all that you have given me. All the memories that I still keep in my back pocket for rainy days. For showing me the capacity I have to feel, love, dream and be brave. You showed me depths and rooms in myself that I didn’t know existed.
I never took the time to forgive you—for not being able to carry everything. I apologize for the times I’ve looked back at you and asked why you couldn’t have done better. The truth is you did the best you could with what you had.
The truth is you did the best you could with what you had.
I have held onto you with whitened knuckles and a fearful heart. I’ve lived in a held breath, waiting for your return. I have been afraid that I could never be you again. The thing is, I can’t. I’m exhausted trying to be.
There’s this quote by Heraclitus that says, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.”
The river has changed—
It has brought us places I didn’t know water could flow to.
It has changed us, and it has led us into our becoming.
I cannot hike through the forest of our becoming carrying the weight of you.
Carrying shame, carrying grief.
I give myself permission to leave you to your train hopping and exploring
to listen to the song you created and hum along.
I give myself permission to look back into the chapters
of our story in which you were the main character
to smile the way you do when you see a photo of someone you once loved.
Fondly, and with a radical acceptance that our time together is up.
I may even call upon you from time-to-time to remind me of where I’ve been,
who I’ve loved and how this river has carried me here.
I promise you I will honor this life—this story—that you put your heart into creating.
I promise I will be brave when the river runs rapidly.
I promise I will continue in our great becoming.
I promise I will write this new chapter in which I lead with kindness, courage and honesty.
I promise when the version of us who completes the story looks back, she will thank us both.
She will hold us both closely and honor what we offered.
May the stark contrast of who I was be boldly hung on the museum walls,
May it be sang from the peaks and the valleys,
May the warmth of our transformation be enough for the soul’s winter.
All of my love,
Do you ever long for your former self? In what ways can you make peace with who you are and where you are today?
Image via Kailas Michael