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Faith and Values: The key to restoration is embracing, not forgetting, the past

Tracy Simmons, a columnist for the Faith and Values page. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Tracy Simmons, a columnist for the Faith and Values page. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
By Tracy Simmons The Spokesman-Review

Earlier this summer, a friend from high school pinged me on social media to say she’d be passing through Spokane and wanted to get together.

Without hesitation, I said yes.

Like so many people from my past, Amanda had become a thumbnail image – a vague digital presence – that occasionally crawled across my Facebook page. We used to know everything about each other. We’d share secrets and turned to each other when things got tough.

I was excited to see her face-to-face. I wanted to know who she had become.

But I was also ashamed to see this person because it meant having to admit that I didn’t know what had happened in her life these past 19 years. Our senior year we had promised to keep in touch and we couldn’t imagine otherwise. We failed.

When she arrived in town, I nervously picked her up at her downtown hotel. My nerves quickly vanished though. She still had the affable smile I remembered. Life hadn’t taken that away from her. I hoped she saw the same familiarity in me, and that the struggles of the past two decades weren’t written on my face.

We made small talk as we wandered through the Kendall Yards Night Market. I boasted about how much I love Spokane. We talked about our dogs. We reminisced about old friends.

Somewhere in the middle of our chatter I realized that we had picked up where we left off all those years ago. We still laughed at ridiculous things and with enthusiasm could go from talking about everything to absolutely nothing. The difference was that now we did this with education, wisdom and experience behind our words.

As a way to protect myself from my past, I had let the memories of our friendship fade. I’ve written before that I ran away from my hometown, Albuquerque, as soon as I was able. There were too many wounds there, and too many hurtful people.

I didn’t realize I was doing it, but over the years I’ve let those negative impressions overcrowd my mind. It’s easier to label it as all negative, instead of picking out and separating the good from the bad. Amanda was associated with the place I ran from, so, undeservingly, she was pushed away.

Who else had I pushed away in a failed attempt to protect myself?

It seems silly and obvious now, but I let myself believe the key to healing was forgetting the past, when really the key to restoration is embracing the past.

There’s a famous quote from Christian ethicist Lewis B. Smedes that I’ve glossed over before, but it wasn’t until I reflected on my visit with Amanda that his words really hit me.

He said: “Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”

I need to restore the chapters of my life I’ve tried to erase. I need to see the memories of my soccer team and the mountain bike trails of the Sandia Mountains and to hear the laughter of my childhood friends. Those can be new ways to remember, and maybe this new path will lead me to forgiveness and lead me to renewed friendships.

Tracy Simmons, a longtime religion reporter, is a University of Idaho lecturer and the editor of SpokaneFAVS, a website dedicated to covering faith, ethics and values in the Spokane region.