“We are all failures – at least the best of us are” (J. M. Barrie)

Bill by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

Even if it is your good fortune not to have suffered greatly in life, I suspect you have nonetheless endured the challenge of moving on.  I reckon no one is spared the occasional trial.  We all have something we’d prefer to leave behind.  It really matters very little that the strength of one’s particular encounters with fate are of comparatively weak intensity; in the end, accommodating a tribulation of any degree exacts some measure of duress.  The consequence of moving on is letting go; the two concepts go hand-in-hand.  One concept (moving on) is prospective; the other (letting go) is retrospective.  You cannot move ahead if your foot is on the brake.

Moving on is no passive transition.  We’re not a disinterested tourist watching the transient fields from the window of a train.  Moving on is a cognitive process, one which is rife with often disturbing connotations, innuendo like moving past something or letting go of something, ridding oneself of a burden, obliterating memories and hoping for better times.

Without even entertaining the merits of moving on, the simple truth is that all the analysis in the world will not put the pieces back together and as such it is just as well to “leave the pieces on the floor and move on” (Tupac Shakur). No one can tell you how to mourn a death or rage over a personal assault “but you can’t move forward until you break that chain” (Leymah Gbowee). Sometimes moving on is not so much a rejection of the past as a departure from it, the natural progression of one’s development. In those instances “you keep the wonderful memories but find yourself moving on” (Nicholas Sparks). Letting go means the realization that “some things are a part of your history but not a part of your destiny” (Steve Maraboli). And remember that “keeping the baggage of the past will leave no room for happiness in the future” (Wayne L. Misner).

Whatever the reason for moving on there always remains the query whether one cherishes the past or ignores it altogether. Oddly the debate doesn’t turn on the question of agreeableness. Sometimes hanging onto the past because it was agreeable can precipitate future disadvantage.  On the other hand, burying the past because of its plights can be just as ill-advised if for no other reason than that it represents a mistaken effort to obscure what may have been an influential part of your life.  Moving on is about neither resistance nor denial.  It is about evolution.

We shall never be able to “start over again” completely.  Our previous decisions, conversations and expectations are coming with us. We must accept that we’re not merely going through life but unfolding our personal destiny by imperceptible gradation. This isn’t going to be a stunning reincarnation. There may even be the further horror of having to relive one’s past or similar experiences so we may as well prepare for the worst! No amount of running will ever put sufficient distance between us and our past. Like it or not the past is a part of us. The idea is to keep moving and to avoid allowing the weight of our past to drag us to the bottom.  In fact the continued attachment to our past is nothing more than a race to the bottom because it undermines or destabilizes who we are.

One sometimes hears of dramatic instances of moving on, such as the husband who goes to work one morning never to return, the criminal who moves to another continent and changes his identity, the child who cuts herself from her parents and alters her family name.  For most, however, the transition is less histrionic: the alcoholic who stops going to the pub with his buddies, the spendthrift who starts saving money, the full-figured girl who loses weight and the father who spends more time with his children.  For still others, much of what happens actually goes unobserved.  For them the act of moving on is less about actions and more about thoughts: coping with a loss; thinking about one’s self or others in new ways; forgiving, accepting and understanding.

If one were to ask you whether it is reasonable to expect life to remain static, you would no doubt have no hesitation rejecting such a patently foolish proposition.  Yet we unintentionally impose such an expectation upon ourselves.  We convince ourselves that our current state is somehow inalterable, whether for good or bad.  Either way, we shackle ourselves to immobility, something which is both counter-intuitive and naturally impossible.  If we once abandon the concern that moving on is an obliteration of the past we are better positioned to see it as a growth into the future.  While we won’t shed our spots we may nonetheless improve our performance.  Perpetuation of current limitations and expectations can be another form of imprisonment.  I am not suggesting we come screaming out of our past into the future, but at least allow life’s featureless modulation.