Embracing Your Past Can Help Soothe the Present

Our ancestors sailed off only to fight new battles

Suffering runs deep in the history of humankind. Realizing that can be good therapy. Emotional pain is not unique to your time or self. So when modern society pulls your spirit down, perhaps embracing the past will provide comfort.

I know a woman who after divorce lived with a despairing mood for a few years. Facing life single in her fifties was no fun. Then she started visiting locations of her ancestral past, and that appeared to help. I understood this one summer morning, watching her slip that little car into reverse and back away from her suburban house.

A devoted schoolteacher, she always spoke from a strict mind, but her chipmunk cheeks attested to a pardoning personality. More and more, though, any laughter sounded muffled, the grins less broad than a decade earlier, each facial expression cast forth conservatively to keep wrinkles from deepening. She often bluntly said, “I wasted my younger years on the wrong man.”

Feeling unfortunate is simply bad for anyone. It can even cause health problems such as weight gain or loss, as well as the loneliness. Some sufferers might seek peace in narcotics or alcohol. Others, as was her situation, instead see work as the escape, though a temporary one.

She would chat with me about new curriculum, grading papers, bullying or funding woes. But mostly it was the students. You could hear her satisfaction in guiding students past the pits and snares of growing up in broken homes, early pregnancies or forays into vandalism. She admired their determination, appreciating that people who are going through hell wish there could be something better. She believed they truly needed her, and that provided solace. But when school let out, the weeks of idleness allowed the unhappy feeling to take over again.

This existed until she decided to drive off for the Eastern Shore that summer. I imagine her easing the four-cylinder compact into the beltway flow, settling into the middle-right lane. Bright songs were another short comfort for her. Turning the radio dial, she would find the rumba and bossa-nova tunes played on organs. She’d likely be passed by big rigs, bearded men resting huge forearms on rolled-down windows. Smiling, they’d mimic her bobbing to the music. Exiting away from the city’s rush hour, her car putters across the long bridge that spans the zillion-spangled Chesapeake Bay. She passes through green-blue communities of cornfields and sailboat marinas.

In the 1600s, an English trading ship crossed the Atlantic Ocean and sailed up the Chesapeake into the Potomac River. After a long voyage, the group of gentlemen, wives, planters, indentured servants and missionaries developed the first colonial settlement of Maryland. They came for profit, adventure, religion, but mostly to find freedom. One of these passengers was her direct ancestor, who died there in a war with Native Americans. Stopping, she visits the historic town, walking among ruins and restorations and watching the woodland tribal reenactments.

Turning later into the pines and sand driveway of what will be her summer home, she parks with a gravel sound. I imagine her sitting there thinking. … She had gone there to escape, only to realize that her freedom-seeking ancestors had tried the same thing and ended up fighting battles against Indians.

Each school break since, she continued making that passage to the coastal lands and heritage sites where her people had first learned how to live. I think it helped her see that surviving is a process where you have to keep healing.

 

4 thoughts on “Embracing Your Past Can Help Soothe the Present

  1. Graduation from the middle age concern to a truly observant brief life concern of other human beings is certainly much more satisfying than compartmentalizing every aspect of the otherwise overlooked condition of the world order.

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    • Thank you for the comment Martin. As you suggested, it is important to show concern for others, while also dealing with one’s own situation.

      Liked by 1 person

    • this is for Same Mr Martin. I do not know how to post on this site but to reply to you and hope sam can see it. does he have a email address? Mark Seymour

      comment….

      first paragraph of a new novel….

      “From Behind the Window” or “Through the Glass”
      By Charles Mark Seymour
      Opening lines of a novel loosely based on the life of Matt Seymour

      “He slipped into his father’s barber shop an hour after closing. It was a long walk along the river to the downtown area and he had to use the back window that was left open on this night. He sneaked thru his screen door over the window and over the high sill and out the warm evening air. He had come to look at all the shiny chrome and blades he could only see at a distance during the parts of the day the shop was open. He was handling the sharp folding razors when a loud commotion on the plaza caught his eye. The shop was a walk thru with the customer front facing the plaza and the rear area with a small bathroom and smoking area. There were six barbers working the shop in a small central Texas town. The commotion he heard was the local KKK aflame the hot summer night with rage over the transfer from Dallas of a convicted black man who lived in the area. He was in protective custody in the McLennan County lock up. The boys attention is drawn away from area near the last of a row of six chairs. He had been admiring the chrome brass work and hydraulic lifts, but now his nose pressed hard against thick green plate glass in the low front ore front. Thru the dusty glass he could just make out a mob in the light of a large bon fire in the center of a circle of pecan trees.”
      or
      “An eleven year old boy peered over the edge of the barber shop window sill in the darkness of a hot Waco summer night. The noise from the street had made sleep even more difficult than normal in the oppressive heat and humidity. I had just walked the short distance to downtown and slipped into the barber shop through the back door. Since my father worked there it was no trouble to leave a back window unlocked earlier in the day. All the flames and chaos downtown had kept many awake but hiding in their homes. I took my place on the shop floor that over looked the city plaza to see the angry mob and the torches held high. The jail could not hold the object of all the searing hate and they had the man on a rope tied around his neck dragging him around the square. It seemed the whole city was up and active in this mob.”

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