Years back, McDonald had put out a really neat commercial. In the commercial, there were two boxers. One of them was getting hammered and was about give up when his coach reminded him of something that happened in the past. The coach told him, “Remember when you were six, and we took you to McDonald’s for your birthday? All the kids? All the fun? All for you, son? Remember when someone stole your fries and we never found out who? It was him. ” Even though the McDonald commercial was fictional, it reminded me of how the past can either motivate us to do something extraordinary or cause us to be paralyzed by fear and shame.
A timeline by definition is a graphical representation of passage of time. Using a timeline, we can go back in history and look at the chain of events that shaped our world, good or bad – slavery, wars, famine, natural disasters and of course, some of the great inventions of our time, such as electricity, automobiles, airplanes, computers, and the list goes on. These things of the past have greatly impacted and changed our lives forever.
On a personal level, the things we have experienced shapes who we are and how we do things. Things like marriage, parenting, divorce, loss, disappointment, success, abuse, etc. Sometimes it seems that the negative experiences impact us the most. There are two different types of negative experiences. Ones we have no control over and ones that derive from our choices. It all comes down to how we handle it. Whether we learn from it or make the same choices expecting different results yet find ourselves facing the same consequences. We can chose to let it strengthen us or embitter us.
In my last blog post, The Rainmakers, I highlighted a little about the people who made a difference in my life; people who helped me to be who I am today. I also talked a little bit about my two young sisters, Maria and Chuma. In times when I felt like giving up; when I felt that there was no way out, my sisters had become a source of strength. I did not want to fail for their sake. They became an inspiration for me to be innovative and to find ways of providing food and shelter for the family. I became like a mother and father to them.
When the time came for me to travel internationally with the vocal group, it was hard for me to leave my two young sisters behind. I was scared for their lives and what might happen to them in my absence. As the plane was getting ready to take off, I took one last look at the crowd standing at the balcony of the airport waving their goodbyes. My sisters were not waving, but instead they had covered their faces, weeping. I knew it had to be painful for them to see someone who took care of them leave. The images of seeing them cry at the airport burned in my head. I doubted myself, and I had all these unanswered questions. Am I making the right decision?
Our trip to Moscow was very uneventful. My heart and mind was still back home. I wondered how my sisters were doing. Did they have food for the day? Would they make it without me? I had a hard time eating, I had lost my appetite. I felt guilty and that God would punish me for being selfish. If I loved my sisters so much, why did I leave them behind? I did not only provide food and shelter for them, but I was also their security. Kalingalinga was still a very dangerous place to live.
When we got to Russia, we were told that our flight to New York had already left and it would be three days before we could catch another one. To make matters worse, we met a guy at the airport who had missed a flight. He told us he had been at the airport for several weeks and that the Russian government would not give him a visa to leave the airport and find a hotel. Since I was already filled with guilt, missing our flight was an indication that God had already started to punish me.
The Russian airline had petitioned for a three day visa and had put us in a hotel. They also provided meals for us. We had less than $100 as emergency money. Our road manager was already making his long drive to meet us in New York from Texas. We needed to inform him that we are not going to make it in time. My friend Daniel and I had gone into downtown Moscow to find a place where we could make an international call to the United States. We were told the charge will be about $80 to make a 5 minute call. Since we had about $95, we figured that would be enough money to make the call. After we made the call, we gave the attendant $80, but we were told they didn’t accept dollars, only Russian money. He confiscated our passports until we could pay for the phone call. After we converted the $95 next door, we came to learn that the Russian money was not enough to cover the call. We went back to the hotel without our passports, helpless and fearful of what would happen next. How would we ever leave Moscow?
That evening, we went up to the 9th floor of the hotel to lounge and have a pity party. People from different countries gathered for some coffee and fellowship. We started to sing softly in the corner, providing entertainment for the hotel guests. A man from Italy jokingly offered to be our music manager. He took off his hat and passed it around. People started to put money in the hat for the group. The guests got excited and danced around the room with us, but then the Russian police came and stopped the festivities. We raised more than $100 that evening and were able to pay the rest of the phone bill and got our passports back in time for our flight.
After about three months in the United States, my guilt worsened. I became depressed. I would not sleep. Every night while in bed, my mind would play all the negative things that had happened in my life. The worry I had for my sisters; the condemnation for leaving them. I couldn’t shake the guilt. How could I be so defeated in the land of opportunities? Life is supposed to be better here. It seemed like my past was once again showing its ugly face with a vengeance.
It wasn’t until a year later when I realized that no matter what I did, all my life experiences would remain on my timeline. I could either accept my past or live in denial for the rest of my life. For the first time, I was able to grieve my mother’s death. For so many years I had lived in denial. I had become numb to pain. I did not want to show any emotions. I thought showing emotions was a sign of weakness. But this time, I had made a choice. I would not allow my past to dictate what I would become.
I often hear people say “just move on” or “life goes on” when others have experienced disappointment or loss. But the stuff is still on the timeline. That painful, hurtful moment will always be there, a part of you. You can’t just move on. Avoiding it doesn’t help. If we deny it, ignore it, bury it, we will not be able to heal. Instead of becoming stronger, we allow it to hinder us.
We need to accept our past and stop fighting it. Take time to heal. No amount of beating ourselves over the head will change it. All that is, is wasted energy and time. The past is but a memory of which we do not have any control over, but we have control of what we do in the now, the impact we can have in the lives around us and beyond.