What Holds Us Back?

A few days back, instead of working on my thesis, I spent my evening watching Desperate Housewives. You see, I have always loved the comedy-drama series. I am a big fan of Teri Hatcher and Felicity Huffman who play Susan and Lynette respectively on the show. The episode that I watched on that day entitled 'Distant Past' and it started with these wonderful lines:

"We think of the past as water under the bridge. A current that carries away the mistakes of our youth. The love we lost. The addiction we gave in to. The opportunities we threw away. But sooner or later, reminders drift back into our lives, of the mistakes we made and the sins we committed. The mistakes of our past have a way of drifting back into our lives".

Essentially, these beautiful lines answer one big question in my speech today which is: what are the things we need to let go in our lives? Or in simpler words, what holds us back? Although male-female relationship has been a dominant substance in our discussion for Women in Literature class this semester, there are actually several other issues that entail letting go.

Fellow friends,

Perhaps, the most personally accessible issue when we talk about what holds us back is to get rid of the bitter memories of our past failed affairs and relationships with our other half, or so you thought they were. It can be someone that left you for the painfully overused reason: irreconcilable differences. It can be your first love that time just cannot erase. Sadly, unrequited love it was. Miss Brill from the story Miss Brill by Katherine Mansfield is the first imagine that comes into my mind. You see, the story beautifully puts across one crucial point: no matter how far you run, the memory of that someone special will always be there, unless you learn to let it go. It can be someone dear to your heart, the one that loved you so much and you loved nothing less, but God took them away from you and you have been dwelling on the memories ever since, perpetually wishing that they could come back and tell you that it was nothing but a terrible, terrible nightmare. Just like when Kathy is forced to accept the reality that Tommy will no longer be by her side and that she has to learn to let it go in the great novel Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Fellow friends,

The second thing that prevalently holds us back is perhaps the mistakes that we once committed and ugly truths that we have been trying to hide. I suppose most of us wish we could say this: I have had no regrets. The truth is, no matter how perfect we claim our lives to be, or how happy we have been, we can't stop thinking of this one particular mistake or this one ugly truth, and how we dream and wish we could go back, make it right and amend it. The bad news is, we can't. The mistakes and terrible truths will keep haunting and keeping us awake in the middle of the night. I suppose Guy wishes he could turn back to the day when he had that one affair with the Malay woman and undo it in the story The Force of Circumstance by Somerset Maugham. But we all know and he knows he can't, so he tries to bury it instead of dealing with it. And when you try to bury your past mistake instead of dealing with it to be able to let it go, you know it will come back to you, sooner or later, one way or another. Just like Juliana Omer and the ugly truth that she has been trying to seal shut in the story Woman from Hell by Nor Faridah Abdul Manaf.

Fellow friends,

The last thing that holds us back is perhaps our persistence to hold on to that one moment in time when opportunity was right in your grip  yet you let it slip away. Have you ever been in this situation when you tell yourself "I wish I could have" so many times you end up feeling remorse and sorry for yourself? That you swear yourself under the sun for letting that one moment in time opportunity slip away? Well, here is the good news. You are not alone. Indeed, it is a bless when you realize the wasted opportunity as it will make you alert to never let it slip again, but it becomes a curse when you keep looking back at the closed doors and are oblivious to the ones that are open before you. It takes Steven several years to finally realize how he has wasted an opportunity to lead a good life with Miss Kenton, a lady who was once so in love with him in the thought-provoking novel, Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. But as the stranger he meets at the end of his journey says "The evening is the best part of the day. You have done your day's work. It's time to put your feet up and enjoy it".

Fellow friends, 

Like any of you, I also have that one person that was once and still is so dear to my heart. Deep down, there is this one mistake that still keeps me awake at night, the ugly truth that I keep unrevealed and the wasted chance I wish I had not taken for granted. But I know, at some point in my life, I have to let them go. What are the repercussions of not letting go? My friend Yuslina Badrum will only too very pleased to share that with you.

Fellow friends,

The episode of Desperate Housewives that I watched that day ended with these lines:

"The past is never truly behind us. Ghosts lurk in the shadows, eager to remind us of the choices we made. But if we look back, we might find an old friend with open arms, or an old enemy with a hidden agenda, or a grown-up son with a forgiving heart. Sadly, some of us refuse to look back, never understanding that by denying the past, we are condemned to repeat it".

Thank you.

(My speech for Women in Literature Conference, April 2, 2011. The speech above is based on several impromptu alterations on the day I delivered it).

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