“Life is a series of passages; movements from one stage of living to another,” a friend told me. These stages aren’t like the ascending rungs on a ladder, always onward and upward. Neither are they clearly marked steps, as if one can travel along an obvious, well manicured path. Life is much more muddled than that. Still, life is in forward motion, and it carries us toward the future, even if sometimes by bewildering means. We get in trouble – or “stuck” is probably more accurate – when we refuse to go on, and instead, retreat to the life we used to live; the life that used to work so well for us.
For example, in my grandmother’s old house there was a stairwell that led from the basement to the first floor. Upon leaving the basement, the door would shut and lock automatically by means of a high tension closer, leaving you to climb the stairs in the dark. On the occasional times this happened to me, I immediately began pounding and clawing on the locked door behind me, terrified of the dark ascent.
But that door was locked, and no amount of banging or shrieking could reopen it. I had to find the courage to grope through the darkness, through that frightening transitional stage, to reach the unlocked door at the top of the stairs (always with a little light shining behind it). Life, more often than not, is just like that.
Everything is bouncing along splendidly until we reach some inevitable crisis, some roadblock, some door that locks behind us, leaving us in the dark. Disoriented, frightened, standing in a space we have never known, our first impulse is to go back. Back to where life was predictable; back to that sense of safety that now alludes us; back to where we knew who we were and what we were doing.
But that door is locked and the life we used to live is gone for good, and thank God, that life is gone for our own good, for we can never become the real people God is creating us to be, by living in the past. As Paul of Tarsus said so decidedly, “No, I am not as God wants me to be, but I continue trying to reach that goal, for this one thing I do: Forgetting the past and straining toward what is ahead, I keep moving.”
Every time I read those words, “straining toward what is ahead,” I envision my five-year-old self reaching with trembling hands for the next step in that gloomy stairwell, and I am reminded that there is no other way to live life or to move forward. We must let the darkness do its good work, scrabbling through the transformational passageways, painful and dark though they be, and not fall back clawing and screaming for our former lives. Those doors are locked, and can never be reopened. That’s a good thing, because life is moving forward, toward the light.