A New Year

In the sixth grade, our English teacher assigned my class to write our autobiography. Where most of my classmates wrote one-page summaries of their lives thus far, I wrote a scrawling multiple-page narrative going into detail about the unusual circumstances of my birth and the highs and lows of a 10 year old living in Central Nebraska.

My English teacher panned it, etching into the sides of my rulered notebook paper “Did some of this even happen?”

Her remarks took the breath out of me. I questioned my ability to write, let alone understand the assignment given. Even in college, it took too much courage to read the feedback my professors scribbled into the edges of my essays.

Do you remember the moment you really understood you had a talent in something? Or at least an interest? How about the moment when someone in power diminished that talent?

We are entering a new year and I find myself reflecting on my past life. Where do we find bravery? Where do we find ourselves, despite the things said to us? When do we learn to move on from the things we’ve done?

A few years ago, I found myself completely bothered by the phrase “No Regrets.” How selfish, how unaware, I mused. I have regrets. An unkind comment, delivered to a friend with too much venom. Anger, when understanding should have been the reaction. Imposing my view on lives lived, unnecessarily. Regret, indeed.

These flashbacks often attack me when I’m doing something benign, like making sugar cookies, and remind me I’m not perfect – and I can not be nice. The guilt of who I’ve been drowns me.

When I was going through a particularly emotional time in my life, my friend Nick stood up for myself. “Your feelings will always be valid,” he reminded me. Insisting that while the reaction is not always pitch perfect, you have a right to feel your own emotions. No one can take that away from you.

The night before New Years Eve, a group of us celebrated a little too hard. Being friends with the bartender at a trendy place in town, several shots were dolled out as we celebrated with the staff. We reflected on lives lived and in between funny stories and heart broken paths, they reminded me that reflecting on the past is not a negative thing.

“It’s how we grow, it’s how we learn and move forward,” Leah stated (while sneakily pouring one of the shots of whiskey into a water glass so she could avoid it). And I have to agree. While I need to deal with the devils in my past, I also have to remember they’re how we shape our future selves. Bravery to face our past selves. Bravery to face our past critics. And bravery to remember that we are a little too hard on ourselves.

This next year, I’m making resolutions. To be more intentional. To be a more active in our society. And to acknowledge not only my regrets, but my critics, and to move on.

I recently found an essay I wrote my senior year in high school about Tess of the D’Urbervilles. My miraculous AP English teacher Mr. Hammond highlighted and wrote “yes!” next to nearly every other sentence. At the end, he simply wrote “Keep writing, Amanda.” Mr. Hammond passed a few years ago, the news of his death shook my fellow classmates who remembered his kind, reassuring class.

I owe it to his memory to remember his encouraging words, and keep on writing.

I owe it to myself to see past missteps taken, and keep on climbing.

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