Holding on or letting go? The Worthwhile Life: 2

I went for a run first thing this morning. Nothing too dramatic. A gentle jog to test out my aching left achilles’ tendon. Or is it the calf muscle? And I was reminded – inevitably – how my running used to be…

My best ever time for 10k was a little over 46 minutes; I once ran ten miles (16k) in just under 80.

Even though I now struggle to run 5k in 30 minutes, I can’t help but hark back to those old achievements; somewhere there is the sense that, if I train hard, I can get close to those times once again. Times from over ten years ago.

Who am I kidding?

And here’s the thing: because of my inability to let that history go, is it infecting the present, threatening the future? Is there a danger of turning it from something to be proud of to a millstone?

It’s a simple example but the kind of thing we do all the time with our history – maybe especially with relationships. “Remember the girl at that party? If only I’d…”

If only. If only I’d said ‘hello’; if only I’d tried harder in my exams; if only I’d been nicer to my kids/partner/boss; if only I could run faster.

Surely one aspect of deciding if we have lived a worthwhile life (previous post) is not only about what we have done but what we do next; and if we allow our history to infect our ambitions and perspective, then surely we are compromising what comes next – and how we will look back on today, tomorrow.

Perhaps one of the secrets – though it isn’t really a secret, is it? – is to know what to hold on to and what to let go. In my simple running example, I should hold on to the memories of those fast times of which I should be proud, and let go of any ambition that I can ever get close to them again. And that girl at the party, or those exams. The constant desire to re-live, even though we know we can’t. The trick must be to recognise the positive in our past and hold that fast, and to let go where we need to.

It is an inexhaustible theme which fascinates me. In my fiction, I love to create characters who are struggling to work out their relationship to their history, to reconcile it with the person they are now – or who they want to be in the future: Lewis and Anna in “At Maunston Quay“; Liam and Alison in “The Opposite of Remembering“; Rick in “Writing to Gisella“; Luke in “A Pattern of Sorts“; Neil in “On Parliament Hill“. The are not all positive or likeable characters, but each of them faces a challenge that is, I think, universal.

It is an eternal dilemma – almost literally – and one we each face up to every day. Let’s hope we make the right choices, holding on where we must and letting go where we can.