The past is not prologue

Alice is not going back to school. We have decided, together, that she needs to spend the next quarter getting her mental and physical health more stabilized. It was a hard decision. And it was an easy decision. Hard because it feels like a lot to lose right now, when so much has already been lost. Easy because as a mother, I was not going to send her off to struggle on her own again. We ran the experiment and the results are in: hope is not a plan. So now we are working on a plan. We are calling it “the Alice project”.

Despite some grief in making this decision, it feels good to just pause. Take a moment and say – what does health look like for Alice anyway? What does she want it to look like? It occurred to me thinking in terms of possibilities, and redefinitions that I don’t know that I’ve ever given Alice, or myself, the space to imagine this different, healthy and strong version of her. I think, and I’m kind of appalled to admit it, that I’ve been trying to “get her back” to a healthy place, and I’ve had this mindset for years now. And “back” is probably seventh grade, which in my memory, is the last real stability she had before it felt like a bomb went off and put her health and stability into disarray. I am only now realizing that I’ve spent years trying to help pick up those pieces and put back together seventh grade Alice, as though time could somehow move in reverse, with the aid of therapy and pharmacology. Of course it can’t. Doesn’t. Shouldn’t.

So now I think about what can be. And let go of the useless pursuit to try to recapture a version of ourselves that no longer exists. History tells us that we can dream and create and become so much more than what we were. I don’t pretend that this is all bright and happy – there is a ton of uncertainty and the road ahead will not be easy for any of us. But it feels more honest, and more legitimately hopeful to say – what is ahead may bear very little resemblance to what once was. And it has the potential to be amazing, and beautiful not in spite of, but because of what it has come before.

I keep thinking about this line from Louise Glück’s poem, The Denial of Death:

Everything is change, he said, and everything is connected.

Also everything returns, but what returns is not

what went away —

The bridges we cross from past to future are one-time-only use. We can’t go back. Of course I know that rationally, but emotionally, it’s a different story. For instance, I have to stop myself now from saying “getting back to pre-pandemic life” because I think we all know there is no “old normal” waiting around the bend here either. The bridges have been destroyed; the maps are all lost to us. Besides. The twist at the end is what Alice would tell me if she read this: Mom, she’d say. I wasn’t ok in seventh grade. You just didn’t know it yet. And I guess that is true for most of the “normal” we yearn for. Pre pandemic life was not everything. We weren’t ok.

But I have to believe we can be.

Nothing is ever truly lost. Everything is returned. But what returns is not what went away.

Happy New Year.

4 thoughts on “The past is not prologue

  1. I love this decision. More people should be brave enough to make it rather than stick to a traditional, linear pathway into the future. Alice’s path doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s, and your choice prioritizes the only thing that really matters.


    • Thanks for that. It helps that she is not at all alone in taking a different path – I’m grateful that this generation seems less locked in to a singular definition of success. She has friends taking gap years or just thinking differently about their future so it’s not all black and white.


  2. Carolyn
    Thank you my granddaughter graduates this year 1 went to college last year and is thriving. This one we worry about. I will share your reflection with her parents
    May this be a joy filled year for you all


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