Newsflash: You Can’t Go Back to the Past

I suppose this should have been something that was obvious to me, but it wasn’t. Ever since I left Germany when I was a missionary, I’ve wanted to go back. Wanted to return and check out the cities where I lived and worked. I would go to Google Maps from time to time to scope out old haunts and remember the good times I had there. (Surprising how quickly one forgets the bad times–at least how quickly I do.) Denisa and I would go to Slovakia every three years, and each year we went, I’d try to figure out a way to get over to Germany. Prague is only about  2 hours from where I was a missionary, after all–and I’d been to Prague twice.

But it never worked out. We didn’t have the time, we couldn’t afford it–there was always a reason it didn’t come together. And each time I couldn’t go, the desire to make it there only grew. This time, when we looked at our finances and realized we could swing a Christmas trip to Europe–I was Going To Go.

And so we went.

Actually being back in my mission was a far different experience than I’d expected. It first hit me in Schwarzenberg, the first city I had lived in. My apartment had been torn down. That was somehow very unsettling, and a sign of things to come. The city was the same in many ways, but I was different in many more. I have a family now. I was showing TRC all the places I’d done things, telling him about what it had been like. The last time I’d been there (15 years ago now–am I really that old?), I’d been 19. Single. Struggling to understand this strange dialect of German they spoke in the Erzgebirge.

Life had moved on in Schwarzenberg, just as it had for me. I know this should have been a no brainer, but somehow, it took me actually being there to realize it.

The same experience held true in my other cities. Leipzig. Gotha. Weimar. All of them were the same in many ways, but because I had changed, they had changed. I had anticipated being back in my mission would be some sort of dream-like experience, full of magic and memories. (So sue me.) I discovered it was like any dream: very different in real life.

And as I went to those other cities, I realized that what I had been missing–remembering–all those years wasn’t the places. Well, not entirely. Yes, I’d missed the food and the language and the country and the cities. But what I really wanted to recapture was the whole experience. That time period in my life.

And that’s something you don’t get back.

I know this is turning into a pretty mopey post, and I’m sorry about that. Don’t get the idea that I didn’t have a fun time being back in my mission, because I had a blast. It meant a lot to me to be able to share it with my family. To show them the places. I think it was great for TRC especially, to be able to connect to this event in my life in a much more tangible way. My mission was one of the best things I ever did. It helped me grow in so many ways, and I hope TRC gets to do the same thing.

Would it have been different if I’d been able to meet up with some of the people I had taught or interacted with back then? Maybe. I do wish I’d had time. But even then, I tend to think I would have soon discovered the people were just like the cities. Different. Changed.

And that’s okay. I’m different. I’ve changed. It’s only fair they get the same right.

The bottom line is that I’m cured from wanting to go back to my past. At least for now. I had a lovely time being in Germany again. The food hadn’t changed a bit, and I wish I could open up a local Doner Kebab place in my hometown now. I’d gladly go back to Germany again, but at the same time, there are plenty of other places I’d like to travel still. Italy. Spain. China. Mexico. Who knows? You live in the present and enjoy it as much as you can, because that’s the only shot you have at it.

I’d like to think that when we die, we’re able to return to the past in some way–to relive the moments we’d like to. Then again, I wonder . . . If we choose to try and relive too much of our past, doesn’t that detract from our present? Right now, my kids are just that–kids. There will come a time–I know this–when I will look back on these days with the same nostalgia I look back on my mission. And I will want to return here, and I won’t be able to.

TRC still likes holding my hand. That will last how much longer? A year? Already I can tell he’s beginning to get self-conscious about it, and each time he reaches for my hand, part of me wonders if that will be the last time. I try to enjoy each time.

Because if you don’t do that . . . you might end up like Uncle Rico.

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