Journey through the past - Shawn Loughlin editorial
In June of 2007, a letter arrived for me in Pickering, though I had already moved to Huron County. “I hope this has offered insight into your past, because to forget the past is to forget where we have come from and what we used to be, which is essential to who we are,” is how it ended. The letter was from me and, while it’s a shameless rip-off of George Santayana, who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” I still think the writing isn’t bad.
It was an exercise given by one of my teachers at St. Mary Catholic Secondary School who asked us, in the summer of 2001, to write a letter to our future selves. Dated June 19, 2001, I wrote the letter near the end of the semester (very near, apparently, as I wrote myself a post-script outlining that I wrote the letter during my final exam, as I had forgotten) and it offered some insight into my 2001 life.
My teacher, whose name escapes me, said he did not read the letters, according to a sticker affixed to each one (though I kind of wish he had – maybe my poetic prose would have earned me a slightly better grade). His addition ended with some advice as well.
“My advice to you today is as it was then. You are in control of yourself – your emotions, your reactions... you are whoever you decide you want to be. All the best as you continue your journey through this wonderful life,” he concluded in the sticker affixed to the letter.
I addressed the letter to the ‘Severely Studly Shawn’, which is embarrassing to type, and I wrote about friends I no longer have, jobs I no longer work, girls I no longer date and dreams I no longer chase (writing is mentioned, but so are directing films and playing baseball).
In addition to the unrivalled wisdom in the first paragraph of this column, I also urged my future self to take it easy and calm down; that life was too short to be upset over little things.
Reading that letter in 2007 was eye-opening, but rediscovering it in 2021, 20 years after it was written, was a whole different experience.
Living in Blyth with a wife, a daughter, a house and a career, all of which would have come as a complete surprise (in one way or another) to my 2001 self, it was amazing to think how much had changed in two decades.
Many of you reading this will know what I mean. In school, you form friendships you’re sure will last a lifetime, forged during the most important days of your life. However, as you enter the next stage of your life – high school after public school, university after high school, the workforce after university – you realize that what you thought was important and would never change has, right under your nose, dramatically altered course without you even feeling the winds of change shift.
To see what was important to me then and to know what is important to me now has shown me how much I’ve grown and changed over the years. And there was no road map for my journey (or anyone else’s for that matter).
As we begin a new year together after one most of us would rather forget, reading that letter gave me a sense of hope my teacher couldn’t have anticipated. Not to wish our lives away, but it showed me that while we may struggle intensely, love fiercely and commit ourselves wholly for a time, our lives move on whether we want them to or not. So, to think of the hard times and challenges we face in the pandemic and through associated economic challenges, my hope is that, one day soon, we will have all moved on, remembering our hardships only in general terms; as something we used to be, which, as a wise man once said, is essential to who we are.