Looking back can often get one nowhere. The “what ifs” and “if onlys” of even the closest yesterday do nothing to change one’s story. Still, looking back does not have to be a waste of time for anyone trying to live clearly in the present. For one willing – and ready – to learn from their past, there can be no better teacher of how to live than the past itself.  After all, every one of us is at any given moment the sum total of every moment lived.

A number of friends and classmates from my seminary days occasionally take time to look back at our younger years, share feelings and insights and celebrate the gift of one another’s experiences as well as our enduring friendships. We have been fortunate to reconnect after years of separate turnings. For us, looking back has always been a bonding and clarifying experience. The stories may get old after many retellings, but their lessons keep on coming.

Not that long ago. …  Well, quite a while back, we shared dreams of and ideals for a better world. We were certain and on track, almost true-believers in ourselves and life’s meaning. Our journeys took us to places and turning points we never imagined. We eventually discovered, each in our own way, that the only world we could change was our own.

In our rememberings, full of gratitude and laughter, with no regrets, the one thing I keep bumping into is an outlook on life – and faith – that has been a consistent thread over the years, a mindset that still works its own kind of miracles for “getting through.”  Admittedly simplistic and poetic, almost a mantra, it can offer a consoling perspective on anyone’s journey. The words, which have stayed with me since I read them, are Thomas Merton’s: “God writes straight with crooked lines.” For anyone wanting to “trust the process” of their life, these words can be a special grace.

Looking back, any who dare will see a mess of crooked lines, as I do; some of them thoughtless doodles, others willful deviations defining my humanness and still others which at the time I had no idea of being crooked at all. Fortunately, none have obliterated the straight lines of my seeking and of all the right choices that have helped to bring me to this moment. At this point those lines are especially comforting, though they remain  challenging or but only when I look ahead.