I was walking my dog in the woods yesterday when I experienced something of a déjà vu moment. Except it wasn’t. Not fully.
Momentarily I was transported back in time to when I was aged about fourteen years old and trudging along a muddy path with my old dog, George, a bumbling Black Labrador who felt like a brother to me. Twenty-seven years ago, there I was, making my way between autumnal trees, ruminating on whatever perceived troubles had been plaguing my teenage mind; probably smoking a roll up and wearing head-to-toe black with Doc Martins on my feet.
But it wasn’t a true déjà vu moment because I was acutely aware of the layer-upon-layers of life that have settled like sediment within me since I was just fourteen years old. Back then, I was so untainted and, for want of a better word, blank. I was a blank canvas setting out in the world with nothing holding me back, no ink stains on my copybook.
When I was at school, we had an assembly in which the headmaster told us that as we made our way through life, we should be aware of the steps we take being like footprints in the snow; that the actions we took and the way we treated people would remain forever as a part of our histories, they would be critical in how others perceived us. Footprints in the snow, a phrase I have often recalled over the years.
I felt a sadness envelop me yesterday as I realised that although I was ostensibly experiencing an identical moment in life – walking my dog in the woods – it would not and could not ever be the same as that which I lived through aged fourteen. I have grown so much as a human being since then, seen so many things – good and bad – and have loved, laughed, cried and agonised; an eternity of life’s ups and downs that have accumulated and ultimately reworked the very essence of what I once was. I now have responsibilities, worries, fears, regrets and knowledge of how dark life can get. Back then I was as free as a bird with nothing weighing me down, no deep footprints in the snow.
That is life; it is the journey of ageing, as inevitable as the sun rising and setting each day. We can’t hang on to the innocence of childhood, the lightness of how we once viewed the world.
But as the fresh, clean slate is slowly filled in with the countless experiences life throws our way, so our wisdom grows, and so too our ability to empathise and understand the world around us. That is something to be celebrated and, crucially, not to be wasted. We are, as we grow older, capable of achieving so much, if we utilise the lessons we learn along the way and put them to good use.
As 2017 approaches, it occurred to me that this might be a helpful way to put past mistakes to good use; you could consider the process to be turning faeces into fertiliser. Rather than merely suffering the injustices of all the negativity that has arisen over the decades, maybe we should channel it into doing better, empathising more, being more sensitive to the needs of others, and trying to make our individual little worlds a happier, brighter place.
We can’t remain truly young at heart during our lifetimes. But we can perceive life as a series of important lessons and from those, become more compassionate people – both towards ourselves and to those around us.