Here I am, stealing Billy Graham’s mail again. It’s from December 12th:
Q: I know God has forgiven me for all the bad things I did when I was young, but will I ever forget them? They haunt me all the time because I know my life would have been much different if I just hadn’t chosen to go down the wrong road. — Mrs. A.J.
I’ll answer this in a very roundabout way. A favourite book of mine is one called Uhura’s Song by Janet Hagan. Dr. McCoy is down on a colony world dealing with a pandemic so Kirk and company wind up taking another doc with them in search of the origin world that might have a cure. Only a few locals suspect an origin world even exists, one of those being Uhura’s friend, a singer/songwriter from the colony and now a victim of this plague. Uhura’s only clues come from songs her friend secretly shared.
The locals on the origin world turn out to have very long and perfect memories and pass all knowledge by song or “how it happened” verbatim stories. Uhura and the rest of the team have a hell of a time getting answers out of them, though, because somewhere down the line, people stopped sharing some of that information, deliberately allowing history to be lost in the process.
Some stuff goes on, some dangerous travel goes on, and Evan, their substitute doctor, winds up with a case of the nerves after an animal attack that nearly kills her and a new friend. Later, Spock offers to tweak Evan’s brain and remove the memories that are troubling her (p.253). Evan can hardly believe Spock would suggest such a thing. She’s surprised that Vulcans wouldn’t have a taboo over that kind of mind manipulation, then quotes a Russian proverb: Not a word can be omitted from a song.
“Think, Mr. Spock. All I am is a collection of memories and experiences; that’s all I have to go on as I meet new situations. So anything I remember may be crucial to my survival. Can you sit there and blandly propose to … rob me of what is most valuable to me, to steal a portion of what defines me as a person?”
“That’s all I have, Mr. Spock. It’s all I am.”
Nobody can erase the past. Maybe we can pretend it didn’t happen, but the truth is, we are the product of our experiences and the experiences of those around us. That’s what shapes us. Regrets are going to be part and parcel of that because there will always be opportunities passed, risks not taken, fears allowed to flourish and arrogance allowed to bloom. The best we can do is forgive our past selves, make peace with our past selves and try to move forward.
Graham responds by quoting the bible instead of non-canon Trek, but makes the same points.
I often say in this column that you can’t change the past — and it’s true. But you can change the future, and that should be your focus. And one of the things you can change — with God’s help — is your habit of constantly dredging up your memories of the past. The Apostle Paul did terrible things as a young man, imprisoning Christians and doing his best to stamp out the church. But all this changed once he became a follower of Jesus: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on … to win the prize for which God has called me” (Philippians 3:13-14).
Ask God to fill you with His love, and with the truth of His forgiveness in Christ. Then ask Him to help you to be grateful for your life right now, and to guide you in the future. Don’t yearn after the life you might have had (but never will), but “be content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5).
As an atheist I tut the God need in this, but agree with the advice. Try to stop wondering what might have been. Think about what’s good now and what makes you happy, and who you love.
Your past made you who you are, but it can’t define who you are unless you let it.