Moving On: How the Present Can Heal the Past

Last night I gave a talk and screened four new Glue Films in my old hometown of Steamboat Springs. Every time I do a screening in Steamboat, the topic of my short-lived marriage comes up; I was a Steamboat resident when I got married (and divorced) in 2006. My personal failure at long-term relationship is an important part of the story and part of why I felt driven to work on this project in the first place. On the drive up to Steamboat, as I was taking in the scenery and the spectacle of colors, I reflected on fall as the season for letting go and allowing space for introspection on the cycles of life and death and the markers of time passing.

This morning, the day after the screening, while walking with a friend, she asked me to tell her other friend the story of running into my ex three years ago….

It was Christmas time and I was headed to New York City for the holiday to meet my mom and my brother. The day before my departure I decided to stay in Boulder for an extra day, for no other reason than I wanted to. Having used miles for my ticket I was able to make the last minute schedule change.

On my extra night in Boulder I went out with a friend who introduced me to a woman who told me that she was a psychic. My curiosity kicked in and I asked her how she was able to read peoples’ futures and she simply replied, “It’s more that I help people use the present to heal the past.” Hmmm, interesting, I thought.

The Global Glue theater experience brings up stories, and sometimes memories.
The Global Glue theater experience brings up stories, and sometimes memories.

The next day I kept thinking about what she said, and my ex popped into my head. I had only seen him once or twice in those 4 years since we split and I was still seething in anger and our interactions were more than awkward. Whenever the topic came up I expressed bitterness towards him bordering on hatred. But in the months leading up to that holiday travel I was starting to see the cracks in my bitterness and beginning to see all of the roles I played in our demise.

When I arrived at the airport I went to the desk and asked to change my middle seat to an aisle or window. The airline attendant apologized and told me they only had middle seats left. I groaned about the 50,000 miles I used for a middle seat, so she offered to move me to a middle seat in economy plus with more legroom and I accepted.

When walking towards the line to board I literally bumped into my ex. Eerily, I was not surprised and was armed with the thought, “Use the present to heal the past.” I smiled and dropped my bitterness. We exchanged small talk about what we were each doing in New York, he to see his girlfriend and I to visit family.

Someone interrupted us letting me know that I had dropped something, so he boarded as I went to retrieve the item.

As one of the last to board the plane, the empty seats were few and obvious. I spotted my ex at a window seat and noticed that the middle seat next to his was empty. I glanced to my ticket and back up, to my ticket and back up, nearing his row realizing in disbelief that my new assigned seat was next to his. Yes, I had changed my flight and my seat assignment landing me smack into the conversation I had avoided and next to my ex-husband for a four-hour flight.

There was nothing to do but laugh. As the person in the aisle moved to make room for me, my ex laughed and said, “Just like old times, Gill.”

For the next four hours we talked about everything. I apologized for being controlling and he apologized for not compromising. We both admitted we had tried to shove a circle into a square and had both been stubborn. We lovingly recalled memories of our dogs, both gone. We caught up on our now separate lives. He gave me the news that he had gotten engaged two weeks prior.

My desire to control things is always an effort to avoid pain, yet under my own control I would have avoided him and continued the pain that you carry when you don’t forgive someone and don’t look at your own part. Something larger than my control intervened and I was forced to face the thing I least wanted to. The illusion that he was to blame shattered, and I watched the stories that he cost me my future and happiness fade away into untruths. My bitterness is completely and wholly mine, as is my happiness.

We walked to baggage claim together and said goodbye, I wished him well and congratulated him on his engagement and we gave each other a sincere hug.

Fast forward to today, immediately following the walk and recalling this very story, I bumped into my ex again in Steamboat. That coincidence wasn’t all that shocking, I was staying at a mutual friends’ house where he stopped by, although years ago we would have avoided each other at all costs. Instead, I had actually texted him days before letting him know that I was coming to town and he strolled up smiling letting me know that he saw my car in the driveway. We gave each other a genuine hug and I was happy to see him, as he seemed happy to see me. We talked about our lives, our families and friends, and then parted with another hug.

He is setting off for a new life, leaving Steamboat behind and moving with his new wife and baby to another state. And I find myself accepting it all: both those past mistakes and the person I was who made them, as well as the fact that life marches on. In this season of change and renewal, I am yet again reminded that it’s never too late to use the present to heal the past.

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