“When your army has crossed the border, you should burn your boats and bridges, in order to make it clear to everybody that you have no hankering after home.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
A few weeks ago I burned 30 years of journals and letters.
I've been thinking about doing this for years but the final push was, strangely enough, a bad haircut.
The day before my youngest daughter's Bat Mitzvah, we went to get her hair cut. You know how it goes: you tell the hair dresser the style you want many times (hair kept as long as possible with an ombre dye). Said hair dresser assures you that she undersands and shows you over and over again how long your hair will be. An hour later you leave shell-shocked with a totally different haircut (in my daughter’s case four inches shorter than expected).
The next morning, my daughter's sadness about her hair set in, and her should've, could've mind loop began . . . I should've just had her dye my tips and not do an ombre, I could've just had it straightened, We shouldn't have paid her . . . A good chunk of her morning was spent imagining that she could somehow magically go into the past and make a better decision with a better outcome.
As an adult I I recognized the dead-end nature of this type of magical thinking. Not because I'm above it, but because I've spent much more time than I'd like to admit thinking about the past and imagining how things would be different if I had made different choices —but as I grow older I'm able to catch myself a little quicker each time.
So, I wondered, what can this bad haircut teach us about becoming an adult? How can I take this hard situation and turn it into a teaching and blessing for my daughter on the auspicious day of her Bat Mitzvah?
As I sat with those questions, these words came to me: walk away and don't look back.
There's a well-known biblical story about a character named Lot and his wife. We are told that a pair of immoral cities (Sodom and Gomorrah) are set to be destroyed because of their utter wickedness. A man named Lot, his two daughters, and his wife will be spared. They are able to quickly gather themselves and flee their home with two angels by their side. The angels make it clear that Lot’s family must hurry and that they are being spared a certain death.
And as they brought them out, one (angel) said, ‘Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away. (Genesis 19:17).
Lot's wife was unable to resist looking back and she was turned into a pillar of salt.
I know this to be true in my life as well. The more I'm thinking about the past, the more stuck I become.
I'm not saying that we can't be reflective or make amends — just that the bulk of our energy has to be oriented toward the present with future goals as our guiding light.
After my daughter had completed reading from the Torah at her Bat Mitzvah service I blessed her with all of my maternal love and wisdom to have vision that looks forward, instead of back.
As my daughter is moving into the beginning of her adulthood, I am also moving into a new phase of my life. I just turned 45 and have successfully raised all of my children to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah age. It feels big to me. The intensity of early child rearing has settled, and I have some ambitious projects that I'm excited to work on. I know that in order to succeed I have to bring all of my energy to this present moment. I'm ready to be a warrior in my own life.
For me that meant burning 30 years of journals and letters.
30 years of secrets, heartbreaks, yearnings, kvetches, prayers, dreams and grocery lists.
I had two friends with me to witness. I opened each journal and letter, read a piece aloud, and offered it onto the flames.
As I watched the papers burn, I said prayers that I learned from my teacher, Sara Yehudit Schneider:
After reading about a positive moment: Thank you for all the sweet experiences of my life but help me to stay in the present
And after the negative ones: Hashem (G-d) help me find a way of healing this memory, perhaps by just letting it go. In the mean time, help me to stay in the present
May it be so.