The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’ So runs the opening line of LP Hartley’s 1953 novel, The Go-Between, a reminder, it transpires, that childhood is not without embarrassment, love is rarely straightforward and society’s mores are forever changing.
The past, many would accept, is also an imperfect country, one where mistakes are inevitable, wires get entangled and opportunities – for both good and ill – go begging. So, why do so many, when looking back, send up howls of ‘I should have known better’ or ‘I should have done better’?
It isn’t the case for everyone, of course. Some will gloss over difficulties, seeing the past through rose-coloured spectacles, while others will view it more objectively. But for those with a tendency to focus on the negative, the self-reproach and lack of self-forgiveness is sometimes startling. No matter the complexity of a situation, the knowledge to hand or the sincerity of intention, they won’t cut themselves any slack.
Yet to forgive, both oneself and others, is human. And it can offer hope, even during the darkest of times, making the dawn of another day seem bearable if not yet manageable. It doesn’t mean forgetting and it isn’t an offer of absolution (if, indeed, one is required), but it might, in time, provide a way to move on. The past, after all, is a reflection in the rear-view mirror of an ever-changing and imperfect present that whizzes by relentlessly. On occasions when it hoves into view, try to see the whole picture – and remember everyone, including you, deserves kindness.