Stepping Backward, Moving Forward

Remember the movie Back to the Future, in which the hero finds that going back in time can impact the future? A recent ocean beach walk through newly deposited seaweed reminded me of this idea.

My childhood summers were spent on a lake in Wisconsin. My parents trusted my brother and me to responsibly handle their water ski boat (it was too much fun to risk losing that privilege by doing something stupid), and there was nothing we enjoyed more than a day of lake activities. This was the kind of day that he and I would call summer heaven. And when friends came over it felt like life couldn’t get any better.

Driving the boat we skimmed over the water, loving the wind in our hair while we checked out all the other activities on the lake. There were a few places to avoid like the large rock that was mostly submerged, and the resort that had lots of seaweed floating on top of the water in front of it.

But there was another obstacle that wasn’t easily seen. Each summer there was a period of time when a certain kind of seaweed grew from the bottom of the lake to about five inches beneath the surface of the water. During our boating activities this seaweed could wrap itself around the boat’s propeller and build up until the engine bogged down and alerted us to stop.

The best way to get free of the seaweed was to put the engine in reverse. The seaweed would quickly unwind and float to the top of the water. But before we went forward again, we would hand-check (with the engine in neutral – another area not to be stupid in) and remove any remaining seaweed. Without removing the seaweed the engine would overheat and break down, so there was no going forward again without going backward first. We respectfully gave that engine everything it needed to keep going.

Right there, surrounded by beach seaweed, I had an a-ha moment. I began to think of the times in my life when I needed to step back to release the seaweed of events, attitudes, or judgements from others before I could move forward again. Then I realized life repeatedly offers us that opportunity. Giving up things that weigh us down is one way to back up and move forward.

Letting other people’s opinions control our decision-making is something that can weigh us down, like seaweed in the prop. This is especially true if we are making decisions about our health. We can listen to what other people think, but the decisions are ours. When we’re dealing with cancer, or any major illness, we choose the doctors, the treatment plan, the drugs we are willing to take, and those we are not. And if we need to redo our treatment plan we step back, make needed changes, and move forward again.

Let’s take a step back and release our past from weighing us down (ie, clean the prop). There is no shame in making mistakes – it’s how we learn. Anthony Gucciardi writes, “The butterfly does not look back at the caterpillar in shame, just as you should not look back on your past in shame. Your past was part of your transformation.” Gather up that hard-earned wisdom from the past and bring it ahead to this moment so you can make the changes you want to make going forward.

Life can catch us by surprise like the unseen seaweed growing just beneath the water’s surface. We may stop but we don’t need to get stuck. Whatever our challenges are, if we take a moment to step back and gain perspective, we can move forward with confidence and courage.

Until Next Time – Sylvia



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