“Time doesn’t heal all pain, you need to learn how to let go.”
—Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart
One sunny afternoon in 1981, I walked to our neighborhood supermarket to buy some Chips Ahoy! cookies—my favorite snack. After I made my purchase, I eagerly exited the store to begin my route back home. It was never a surprise to see a stray dog in my neighborhood, but for some reason, the one sitting outside the store struck fear in my heart. Instinctively, I started running—fast! And the dog, a medium-sized German shepherd, started chasing me.
I was eleven, and I had the stamina to run around the perimeter of the market one time, but I was gassed shortly thereafter. I finally figured I would have to fight this dog if I was going to make it home. I stopped, turned around, and stood in a fighting stance. To my surprise, the dog stopped too. After a twenty-second stare down, I figured it was safe to turn and start my journey back home. But as soon as I started walking, the dog followed. I started running again, and the dog took chase! He trailed me halfway around the market again until I couldn’t run anymore. While gasping for air, I turned around and held my fists up, ready to fight again. The dog slowed to a standstill and stared at me just like before.
By this time, I realized the dog was only chasing me because I was running, and the energy I exerted trying to get away could have gotten me home twice. Once I resolved in my spirit that this dog was no threat, I confidently turned and started my journey home. As expected, the German shepherd followed me for about fifteen feet but stopped just before I left the parking lot of the supermarket.
Decades later, I look back on that day and wonder how often we allow our traumatic pasts to chase us in our present lives. When we mentally run from past wounds and traumatic experiences instead of facing them, we hinder ourselves from experiencing the life we desire. Every time we look back, we re-traumatize ourselves. But there comes a time in life when we have to stop running and let go of what lies behind us in order to live.
Our past is just that—the past—and it’s always confined to that moment in time as long as we do not allow our past trauma to time travel. Just as the German shepherd in the grocery store parking lot was not a real threat, neither are our past experiences—unless we allow them to be. When I stopped running from the emotional pain I experienced with my father, coldhearted women, and disloyal friends, I was able to heal and appreciate my present life.
I was also able to prevent the intergenerational transmission of trauma to my children. As difficult as it was to stop running from the hurt and trauma of my past, I really didn’t start living until I let those traumas go by forgiving those who caused them.