We all have a past. Some of us have one that is dark while other may have a more colorful one. Some have had to deal with traumatic events, tragedies or the loss of loved ones while others were cheer leaders, team captains and prima donnas. No two pasts are identical, similar maybe but not identical. Yet we all have this universal understanding that the past needs to be put behind us and forgotten! I never managed to figure out why until recently. I finally had to accept the answer I was trying so hard not to accept … because we were taught to!
If we had a rough past, we were advised to put it behind us because it will spoil our present and prevent us from looking forward to the much better days that lay ahead. If we had a happy past, we were advised to put it behind us because no matter what happened back then there is no guarantee that life will continue down the same path, so we should not raise our expectations and hopes too high. It’s like there is no way we and our past can coexist in peace. Either it will destroy any prospect of happiness for us or we need to bury it deep. I cannot disagree more!
Your past is an integral part of who you are. It doesn’t define you but it did help shape you. Everything that you are is, directly or indirectly, an outcome of your past. Your past experiences shape your personality and character. Even the choices you make today are based on the lessons you learned in the past. So how can we detach ourselves from it and behave as if it never happened? There’s a proverb which is well-known back home that I wholeheartedly believe in; “whoever leaves their past behind gets lost”. That means that we cannot find our way in life without coming to terms with our past. Furthermore, no matter how hard you try, your past will shine through, one way or another, there’s no running away from it really. What we should do, in my humble opinion, is learn to make peace with it and realize that it has already gone. We moved past that point in time and there is no going back. If it was painful then it can’t hurt us any more and if it was happy then we have those wonderful memories to forever cherish.
Making peace with your past is extremely important. Your past is a reality, not a figment of your imagination, and so you cannot truly behave like it never happened because deep down inside you will always know that it did. If you do not make peace with your past it can haunt you, possible for as long as you live! If you are blessed with a strong memory like mine, you will remember everything from your past including how you felt at the exact moment something happened, what was going through your mind and every other detail that has to do with it no matter how small. Why would you want to agonize yourself every time you remember something unpleasant or feel hopeless every time you remember something amazing and think to yourself that it can never happen again? Making peace with your past is the only way you will be free of it! When you take that step, you will essentially relinquish its hold on you and set yourself free.
Many can argue that it’s easier said than done, and I agree completely! Coming to terms with your past, especially if it was dark or traumatic, can prove to be extremely challenging. More often than not we do not have all the answers. Why did that happen? Why me? Could I have prevented it? Was it something I did? Was being punished for doing something bad? Was I being rewarded for something good? How could God let this happen? And many, many more unanswered questions that race through our minds giving us an overwhelming sense of overburden. The trick is to be OK with not having the answers! How many things around us do we not have an explanation for yet we manage to function normally on a daily basis? It’s the same thing, whatever happened, good or bad, know that it was God’s will and He did it for a reason that either you will come to comprehend and appreciate or will remain unknown but He knows it was the best thing for you at the time. From my own experience, when you stop looking for answers they come running right to you!
My past was full of ups and downs. As a child I was generally happy, especially that I knew that the privileged life that my parents had given us was something that not many enjoyed. However, changing schools every 3-4 years was tough. I had to leave behind people who I grew to love from the bottom of my heart and it was never easy. Facebook and other social media didn’t exist so I knew that once I left that was it. I was a very shy child and didn’t adjust easily so starting a new school was a complete nightmare for me. I also felt detached from my extended family back home. We Arabs maintain really close relationships with our families, even the extended family, so being away all the time made me feel like a stranger amongst them when I would go back home on vacation. There were a few bullying incidents, a couple of times that I was accused of doing things that I didn’t do but was punished anyway and I was going to drown twice during swimming at school. Those were the main highlights of my childhood.
My teen years were calmer, I was focused on my studies so they were not that eventful. I was adamant on not taking any private lessons and on making my Arabic (written in particular) stronger. I also wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for a career so when it was time for my I.G.C.S.Es I went ahead and took 13 subjects instead of the recommended 8 just to keep my options open! I had a lot on my plate but it all had to do with academics. Then came the day I made the decision to wear my Hijab (the veil) and that was when my life turned up side down. I found an influx of support from strangers or friends that I had just made at university but it was met with an equally strong sentiment of rejection and disdain from those closer to me. I found myself facing an emotional and psychological battle waged at me from those closest to my heart. I persevered until I rode out the waves of their negative emotions and temperaments but to say that it was easy on me would be the biggest lie of my life! I still maintain my position regarding my decision and the only regret I have is not taking that step much sooner than I actually did.
Then came the most recent phase of my life, my twenties. To say that my twentieth birthday was disappointing would be an understatement. I was so excited about turning twenty that I blew it up in my head but it seemed that others didn’t see that coming except for my wonderful university friends. My academic studies went extremely well and I made the best of friends, the lifelong kind, at my beloved university. I could not have had better education, met more wonderful people or developed myself any further than I did at The American University in Cairo. I love that place with all my heart and am so grateful that my father was able to send me there and I am so proud of myself for keeping my scholarship going all 4 years.
I believe that I learned the most in my twenties. I met all sorts of people and had all sorts of experiences, good and bad. I made friends with lovely people who are always there for me and made friends with people who stabbed me in the back later on; which taught me how to differentiate between both early on in the relationship. I made a commitment to my wonderful husband and made prior commitments to a person who had no personality whatsoever and was completely different on the inside than how people perceived him and to another who had an unfounded ego the size of the galaxy and didn’t know what it takes to be in a committed relationship and how to respect others outside of himself; which taught me how to tell what people’s characters are like early on in a relationship. I grew closer to many of my family members and was trampled upon by others when my life didn’t go as they had planned; which taught me who really cares about me and who doesn’t. I had managers who cheered me on in my career and others who were biased and tried to stop my career from advancing; which taught me who has work ethic and who doesn’t. I lost all my grandparents and a beloved cousin and uncle; which taught me a lot about pain, loss and the fact that this life is not worth a mosquito’s wing, just like the Quran states! I had to make major life decisions on my own; which taught me my own strength. I survived a lot of things that no one my age is supposed to go through; which taught me about myself and my capabilities. I survived a fatal Pulmonary Embolism when I was 25; which taught me to be humble, thankful and not take anything in life for granted. I gave birth to my beautiful children who taught me the meaning of unconditional love.
Overall, I’d say that my twenties were heartbreaking since the true colors of so many people who I trusted blindly showed and most of them were horrible, horrible beings on the inside. However, I would not have it any other way! I learned a lot, was spared a lot and grew a lot. If I had had a smooth-sailing decade I would have probably not advanced much in my life. I would have not been as wise, mature or knowledgeable. I now go into my thirties with a lot more confidence and optimism. I know myself much better now, including my capabilities and strength. I know others much better now, how to identify those worth my trust, time and devotion and those who are not. I know what I want in life and am not scared to let people in if I want to and show them the exit if I need to. I am not as naive as I used to be nor am I as caring about what others think.
So, due to my past … the good, the bad and the ugly … I am stronger, wiser, independent, more self-confident, self-sufficient and happier! I do not need any outside validation, do not care what others think of my beliefs or actions and know that as long as I am not doing anything to displease God, hurt others or cause any kind of harm then I can do as I please. I know that my family is the only entity that I would willingly give up my life for and that surrounding myself with those who love me and support me is key to my well-being. I know that anything material is a plus, but is not important in itself, inner peace and the well-being of my family are the only things that matter. I know that my past does not define me, it empowers me!