Put it down.
Whatever baggage you’ve been carrying on this journey called life, you need to put it down. It is weighing you down. The longer you carry it, the more tired you’ll get. The more tired you are, the more mistakes you’ll make. The more mistakes you make, the more regret you’ll have. Your regret adds to your baggage, and the cycle continues.
I think everyone should watch Stephen Anderson’s Meet The Robinsons. I’ve watched it twice. I’ll definitely watch it again. It is a 3D animated Disney feature that resonated with me on a fundamental level. Even if you’re not as affected by it as I was, it’s a good film worth the 84 minutes it lasts. Meet the Robinsons is the story is of a boy named Louis, who is abandoned as a baby by his mother in front of an orphanage where he spends his early years. By the time he is 12, Louis is a budding inventor who dreams of making the world a better place. However, he desperately wants to belong to a family, which is understandable; he wants to feel loved, wanted, cherished and safe, desires that mirrored mine at age 12. I am not an orphan, but I did not come into this world particularly wanted by my parents. I grew up thinking I’d been (reluctantly) adopted and that I didn’t belong in my family. When I was 12 I found out I was half right; the man I thought was my father was actually my step-father, and I knew next to nothing about the man whose genes I had. My step-father is no prize-winner; he isn’t even a good father to his own children. When I discovered that I had a “real” father out there somewhere, I was convinced that my childhood of feeling disconnected and lost was over. Finally, I thought, someone who wants me; I thought this without even meeting him. There is something to be said about childhood optimism.
In the film, Louis understood my state of mind all too well. After his 124th unsuccessful interview with potential adoptive parents, Louis is tired of rejection. Discouraged, he is convinced that no one will ever want him. But after a conversation (which he completely misunderstands) with Jo, the caretaker of the orphanage, he gets the idea that he can find his “real” mother and that she is the only one who will want him. After that, Louis ignores the next round of potential adoptive parents while he works on a brain scanner that will search his earliest memories for glimpses of his mother’s face. Jo says these words to him which he ignores: “Listen, I know where your head is, but you have got to get out of the past, and look to the future”. Words to live by. And when I was a child, I thought I was living them. I didn’t fit in at home or at school, so I looked forward to the day when I would find where I truly belonged. As I mentioned earlier, I thought that day would come when I met my father.
If this saying doesn’t already exist, then I am writing it into existence: with great hope comes great disappointment. The day I met my father was the most disappointing day of my life at the time. Now that I think of it, after that day was when I taught myself never to hope for anything good to happen. I am not sure what kind of person I was hoping to meet, but it certainly wasn’t the person I met. My father turned out to be an arrogant, unpleasant man who had no apologies for his absence from my life. I was crushed. I was sad. I still am, a little bit. I’ve met a few people with good fathers, and I keep thinking that it would have been nice to grow up with one. But I cannot change the past.
My teenage years were emotionally turbulent. After having my heart broken by my father, I was struggling not to believe that I was a mistake. Actually, that’s not true; I believed that I was a mistake, and then wondered whether I could correct that mistake by ending my life. After all, no one wanted me. At home, I felt like a nuisance. At school, I was the awkward, “rebellious” misfit. All I wanted was peace, to be certain that I mattered to someone, to be able to confide in someone all that I was feeling. For a time, it seemed like I got what I wanted. My last two years in boarding school, I made friends – good friends. They were a group of girls who liked me in spite of myself, and I felt good around them. For those two years, all those discouraging whispers that told me that I wasn’t wanted were kept at bay. And then I graduated from secondary school and was separated from my friends. The whispers returned with a vengeance.
By my late teens, I was desperate to be wanted, to not be a mistake. I was convinced that the reason I didn’t belong anywhere was because I wasn’t meant to be here on earth, alive. Understand this: I didn’t want to be popular –I just wanted to be known on a deep personal level, and to be loved for who I was. As a child, I believed that all I needed to do was leave home and I would find the place where that would be true. Well, I had left home for university, and was no closer to finding this mystical place.
You know how a dog can smell fear? Well, I suppose certain human predators can smell depression and desperation. My first boyfriend was such a predator. I look back to the seven months of torment that I put up with and I think: “wow. I must have been dying to connect with someone”. I will spare you the details but suffice it to say that during the time I was with him, I learned a great deal about human cruelty and emotional abuse. I eventually extricated myself from that mess, but by then, I was a mess myself.
It was around this time that I met Chibuzo. Actually, I had met him months before – we were in the same Calculus class, but I didn’t notice him much. When I did notice him, he seemed like the answer to my prayers. He seemed to see me, the real me, and accept me. I felt like I could tell him everything. I was euphoric. For about three weeks. Remember the predator? He wasn’t going to let his prey go without a fight. When he heard about Chibuzo, he came at me with everything he had: threats, insults, cajoling, begging, lies, subtle threats, seeds of doubt, and manipulation that only a master like him could spin. I was 17. I was already carrying so much baggage that I thought my head would explode. I didn’t have anyone to turn to for help or advice. I cut Chibuzo off, and disappeared into the fortresses of my mind.
Some years later, the void in me had grown into a gaping chasm. After a conversation with a friend’s roommate, I was convinced that what I needed to fill this void was to patch things up with Chibuzo, just like Louis was convinced that finding his mother would solve his problems. Desperation and loneliness know no reason, I suppose. As it turned out, Chibuzo wanted nothing to do with me (surprise). He was very polite about it, but very clear. The problem was, he seemed to be the only one standing between me and that great big chasm beckoning to me to jump in: just take the entire bottle of Advil… it will be painless. No, I decided. I would try and win Chibuzo’s friendship back, the same way Louis tried to create the machine that would show him his mother. Louis failed, and so did I.
I am not ready to delve into more details of my personal life. Perhaps I will one day.
In the movie, after his invention fails, Louis meets Wilbur, a boy with a time machine who takes him to the future. He meets Wilbur’s large and eccentric family, the Robinsons, who all live together and who are happy in each other’s company, the kind of family that I’d always dreamed of. It turns out that this is Louis’ family in the future – maybe. Since “nothing is set in stone”, Louis has “got to make the right choices. And keep moving forward” – the Robinson family motto. Louis learns first-hand what can happen when a person gets stuck on past pain. Goob, his former roommate has spent his life obsessing over losing a little league game, a loss that he blames on Louis, hence his slow descent into villainy with the goal to wreck Louis’ future.
In my painful years, I would have liked to keep moving forward, but it got to a point where I ran out of steam, motivation, willpower. I stopped moving anywhere except downwards. As far as I could see, I had no future. There was nothing to wreck; I was already a wreck, waiting for the end.
Before Louis takes the time machine back to the present to fix his broken brain scanner and power forward into the future, Wilbur takes him on a time detour to see his mother – his great wish about to be fulfilled. At the entrance to the orphanage the night he was left there, Louis reaches out to his mother, nearly touches her, then changes his mind and lets her abandon him. Wilbur, surprised, asks Louis why he let her go. Louis shrugs and says that he already has a family (in the future). But I let my imagination fill in what wasn’t said: his mother left him. If she wanted him back, she knew where to find him.
I believe that we are the sum total of our experiences, products of our pasts. The things that have happened to us will, without a doubt, shape us, especially if these things happened when we were very young. Our pasts will shape us, but they shouldn’t trap us. I was trapped, and after thrashing and flailing, I got tired and resigned myself to my cage of despair. And then one night, God came, opened the cage, got rid of it, took all my baggage, and told me to begin again. I really don’t know how else to explain it. Maybe I sound crazy, but it’s the truth. And I am grateful for this truth.
What would you do if you had a time machine? Four years ago, this would have been my answer: I would go back to the year before I was born, and make sure I was never conceived. Now? I would find that lonely, melancholy little girl who daydreamed constantly of a happier place, the little girl that was me, and I would hug her and tell her that I love her so much. And I would tell her that God loves her too – even though sometimes it seems like He’s not there. I’d let her know that between the two of us, she has enough love to last several lifetimes, but that’s not the end of it. Eventually, like Louis who got his wonderful family, she’ll get hers.