About a year ago, while staring out the window, I noticed a big orange and white cat come out of the woods and stride purposefully over to my car. The cat went under the car, came back out and went around it, hopped up onto the roof, went back under, and then sat there staring at the car, as if trying to figure out something. Eventually it went away. The next day it came back, and went through the same routine. And the next day, and the next. Since I once had had the experience of getting into the car, heard mewling from under the hood and discovered that a tiny kitten had crept up into the engine block, after the orange and white cat left yet again I looked under the hood. Nothing. Imitating the cat I looked under the car, around it, into the engine again… nothing. The cat continued its periodic visits for about another month and then never showed up again. Since then I have often wondered what kept bringing it back!
Many of us, over the course of our life, are like that cat, revisiting certain issues and relationships in our life, almost as if we are hoping to find an answer in them which has always eluded us. Doing so often causes us distress as we re-live the old scenarios, re-hear the harsh words and the slamming doors, all of which only serve to reopen a deep wound. So we tell ourselves, once again, “Just let go of it”… only, like that cat, to come back to it again at the oddest moment! There is a difference between finally letting-go of something, and merely putting it down in order to pick it up again later, and that difference is marked by a realization, at some point, that a certain course of action is useless or completely unproductive; at that point we can finally walk away and never return.
So, maybe, in our periodic revisiting what we are really searching for is a realization about ourselves which will free us, which will enable us to put the burden down and to walk away. On a geology class field-trip to the Connecticut River Valley in the Spring of her freshman year at Smith, Gloria Steinem had just such an awakening: “I found a mud turtle on the riverbank, up by the asphalt road. A big snapping turtle, more than a foot long, but I picked it up – carefully – and lugged it down to the river and slipped it in. The professor saw me just as the turtle disappeared in the water. He said that the turtle had been making its way up to dry land to lay its eggs… and that now (because of her interference) it was going to take that turtle months more to lay them.”
It is not sufficient for us to have good intentions, like revisiting a memory in order to find an answer. It has been said that the definition of insanity is to repeatedly do something that has never yielded good results and yet to expect that “this time” it will be different. At some point we need to look at what we are doing repeatedly and assess whether or not it has ever been a fruitful course of action. If not… then we need to just walk away.