“Maybe being strong is not who I actually am,” Abby admitted to Jess in a little heart-to-heart during last week’s episode of Chesapeake Shores. In just that one phrase, we gain incredible insight into Abby and how she views herself. Like so many of us, she hides her insecurities beneath an armor of strength – but those closest to her are bringing out those insecurities, causing her armor to rupture, creating fissures in the solid facade. When Abby discovers the letter she wrote to Trace, the unopened letter that Trace had saved for so many years, her strength wavers. For a few moments, she becomes that scared young woman who didn’t know who she was meant to be. The thing is, we all hide weaknesses and flaws that stem from various choices we’ve made. We are all on a voyage of discovery, and while the past sometimes impacts our present, it doesn’t have to dictate our future.
I remember being a teenager and struggling to figure out who I was – who I was meant to be apart from my parents and my siblings. For a long time, I simply became a poor mirror image of whoever I chose to follow, even when I struggled with some of the choices my role models made. More often, though, I would turn to my journal and my favorite literary heroines to explore my innermost self. Some of my best friends lived on the pages of my books.
In reality, I hid myself behind the cover of a book – just as Abby hides behind her stoic shell. For myself, being sensitive by nature and a self-conscious introvert, I felt safe with friends who couldn’t challenge me or question me. I identified with so many of them – Anne Shirley, Emily of New Moon, even Scarlett O’Hara – and they wouldn’t make fun of me, ignore me, or try to get me to change. Lately, though, I’ve discovered that navigating the rough waters of change and learning to swim even when I feel like I’m losing control and I’m sinking is what makes me who I am.
I love these lines in Madeleine L’Engle’s novel A Ring of Endless Light: “When we’re thinking consciously about ourselves, we’re less ourselves than when we are being self-centered….The discoveries don’t come when you are consciously looking for them….They come for some reason when you’ve let go conscious control.” I lived through my favorites stories because they were controlled. There were limits put on the characters – and the ending never changed. No matter how many times I reread them, Anne with an E always married Gilbert Blythe and Scarlett inevitably made her way home to Tara. In real life, all the twists and turns seem blind for us. We don’t know where the next bend will lead us or just how long the storm will last – but if “we want to walk on water, we have to get out of the boat.”
Sometimes, we bring these unsettling challenges on ourselves with the decisions we make – just as Abby did when she left Chesapeake Shoes and headed to New York to pursue a career. Years down the road, we look backward at those choices and ask ourselves “What if I had….” or “Maybe I should have…” That can be a very dangerous game to play.
The most important things about looking into the past are to learn from those decisions and to discover which doors need to close. There is no point in regretting our past – we cannot change it. In fact, regret keeps us stuck in a holding pattern where we circle our past like a buzzard circles its prey, unable to move forward because all we are doing is looking backward. We can, however, look back at where those choices have brought us and seek to discover how they’ve shaped us and how they are influencing our present situations. If we can stop letting regret control us – if we can learn to roll with the waves and not struggle against the current – we can come out on the other end of the storm a stronger and better person. Then, when we look back at our zig-zagging path, we just might discover that there were incredibly blessings and unexpected joy in the midst of the rain.
You see, every choice we’ve made impacts our own character as well as the character of others close to us. Even in our mistakes and missteps, when we feel as though our sails are useless and the rigging is shot, we can use those moments in our pasts to encourage others. And what we thought were mistakes may just turn into some of our biggest blessings.
Abby may have left Trace and forged a new life with someone completely different, but she has two beautiful girls, a successful career, and is much wiser for the rapids she survived. Now she has the opportunity to close those “What If” doors and see just what the future holds for her. Trace sees this – he knows the possibilities because he’s been there, too – so he tosses that old letter into the fire and slams the door on what once was.
Now, if we can all realize that our past is just a part of us – and that it doesn’t have to haunt us – we just might discover that our rigging may feel rotten, but the lead rope is still intact, and it’s all going to be good.