This Valentine’s Day marks 10 years since I moved to California. I can’t believe it’s been that long – five years I could believe, but 10? That’s almost a third of my life. I’m grateful I made the decision to move here, I’m grateful for my life here, my friends here, my community here, but also I’m sad.
I’m not sad about the decision, because like I said, I love California. California is home. I’m sad I’m not 23 anymore. I don’t want to go back in time and relive 23 because I was scared, anxious, and insecure much of the time, but in other ways I miss who I was. I miss how excited I felt, how enthusiastic I was. I miss the newness of the world around me. I know I’m still young and I’ll still experience new things, but now I have a point of reference. When I travel to new countries, they remind me of other countries. When I try a new restaurant, it reminds me of another restaurant. As I get older, even new things are slightly familiar.
Really what’s happening here is I’m grieving the old me. Celebrating my anniversary reminds me of who I used to be and who I am now. The gap is large, in a good way, but it’s still a gap. Through my work in therapy, I’m learning it’s important to grieve for my old selves. To feel a sense of loss for the person I once was and can no longer be. The sadness exists and doesn’t go away through any rationalization on my part, nor any amount of looking on the bright side. Mourning the old me reminds me of a quote from my spiritual teacher.
He said, “Death is nothing but change. A 5-year-old child is transformed in due course into a 15-year-old boy. In 10 years, the child becomes the boy. Thereafter, you will never be able to find the body of the 5-year-old child. So the child’s body has certainly died.” He then goes on to mention the boy growing into a man, and then hitting middle age, then old age, until he finally dies and says, “The rest of the changes we do not call death; but in fact, all the changes qualify as death.”
That means my 23-year-old died and it’s important for me to honor and say goodbye to her, just as it’s important for me to honor and say goodbye to other people when they die. And that’s what it feels like today, that I’m saying goodbye to the 23-year-old me. I’m remembering what I liked about her and what I disliked, and I feel sad. A little voice in my head is saying, “It’s almost Valentine’s Day! You should be writing about love and happy things! No one wants to read a depressing post!” That may be true, but also in multiple conversations with people they told me they felt like they had to be happy and upbeat in order to talk with me and I said, “No you don’t. You get to be whoever you are. I don’t mind if you’re happy or sad. Either way is fine by me,” and I meant it. And I mean it for me, too.
As we approach Valentine’s Day, I hope you will also let yourself feel sad if sadness arises. I hope that you will grieve old selves and old loves if that bubbles up. I also hope you know that doesn’t diminish the good things in your life, or take away how grateful you are for changes. All changes are deaths and all deaths need mourning.
I dream of a world where we mourn our losses. A world where we let ourselves feel how we feel with love and acceptance. A world where we recognize we can feel sad about the past and grateful for the present at the same time.
Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.