Let me show you a picture of where I used to live. Tell me I didn’t have it good.
That is the Harbourlight Restaurant in Nelson, New Zealand. It’s a three story building, and I lived in the flat on the third floor. I managed the restaurant, so not only did I have a wonderful view every morning and evening, I literally worked a half flight of stairs from where I lived. In fact, the other three restaurants in our private chain were not even 400 m up or down the road, all four were on the waterfront, and each had a glorious view.
I had the life. I would awake every morning around 7, make myself a coffee, go for a run to the beach, then head back and enjoy breakfast on my deck. I’d have a few hours to kill before needing to attend to my duties, so I would either grab my mountain bike and hit the trails (minutes away), grab my gear and fish or surf, or stroll into the city center. By 3PM I was dealing with restaurant issues and by 5PM we were open for business, usually until about 10:30, wherein I could close up and head upstairs.
Rinse, lather, repeat. Yes sir, I had the life.
Of course, the undertow current running beneath this idyllic memory was my divorce from my first wife, my college sweetheart. It was because of this divorce that my time in paradise (as I saw it then) came to an end. I had to return stateside, seek out the counsel of family and friends, and piece together a life without her in it. At the time I didn’t see a way out. I only saw pain, heartache, and the desperation of having left the best life I could have imagined.
My first lesson was that you can cope and recover.
It’s amazing how the pain of yesterday fades away in time. Years later, as I look back, I remember very little of the blackness that seemed to grip my heart. Oh sure, I can feel a twinge every now and then, mostly associated with a sound, smell or event memory, but by and large, I only remember joy and a sense of ease when I think back on those years. I remember exactly what it was like to have “the life”. It was fun and great and exciting, and I love those memories.
However, this, too, has caused problems.
My second lesson was that you can’t live in your past.
It made me want to live in my past. I began to associate Nelson with the only time I had ever truly been carefree and happy. It became my siren’s song, and for a time, I believed I couldn’t be that happy again unless I moved my family back there. Like the song states,
“Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure
makes me want to go back again“.
I wanted to be there. More than anything, I wanted that feeling back. I was living in my past.
It took a long time before I realized I could be happy elsewhere. My marriage to my wife, kids, a good job, and trust with friends all developed in the years between. One day, I just kind of woke up and began to think long and hard about the next verse:
“I think about Paris when I’m high on red wine,
I wish I could jump on a plane.
So many nights I just dream of the ocean,
God I wish I was sailing again.
Oh, yesterdays over my shoulder,
So I can’t look back for too long.
There’s just too much to see waiting in front of me
And I know that I just can’t go wrong“
You see, by refusing to move on, I completely missed out on my present for several years. And they were good years, too. Years before children, with more free money and time. Years that I could have spent pursuing other passions, travelling, or taking more risks. I was convinced that I knew what happiness was, and that I couldn’t have it without being in Nelson. I had such a narrow view of what would bring me happiness that I didn’t make my own life happy.
In short, I wanted to make the next chapter exactly like a previous one.
I laugh now, rereading that last sentence, because it’s such an oxymoron of a statement. When the ex and I originally moved to New Zealand, we didn’t have a place to stay, a job, a car, or anything aside from passports and one suitcase of clothes apiece. If not exactly the Mt Everest of “taking a chance”, it was certainly somewhere nearby in Tibetan plateau. And yet, here I was wanting to take no chances on creating more happiness; I wanted safety in memory, not the truth of the life in front of me.
The truth is this: You have to make your own future if you want to be happy. You have to take a chance and believe that you will wind up where you should be, whether through the guiding hand of God or good fortune. Stagnation does not bring happiness. It brings satisfaction, and unless you’re taking a driving test, satisfactory should never be good enough. You were meant for so much more.
Your past can guide you and help shape decisions, but it’s not where you should live. By doing so, you miss out on your present (and everyone likes a present, right? *rimshot*). All we are guaranteed to take with us as we traverse these trips around the sun are our memories. If you’re never making new memories, what are you going to have to cherish and look back on? If this crazy ride we call life were to end tomorrow, would you look back with regret at the things you did, or would you look back with regret at the things you didn’t do?
I’ve learned which way I would answer. I’d lament every chance I let pass me by.
“If it suddenly ended tomorrow,
I could somehow adjust to the fall.
Good times and riches and son of a bitches
I’ve seen more than I can recall”