I recently wrote that “The past holds nothing for me but dreams from which I’ve already woken.” I love that line, but there is something I’ve overlooked. Perhaps the past holds one real thing: lessons. Wisdom. It holds an equal amount of regret and pain, but to completely neglect it would be foolishness.

For instance,

I owe a hefty apology to the girl I kissed on the hardwood floors of my old home. It was the center of winter and she came over for a double feature: Horror followed by comedy.

For the horror, ironically, she lay on the couch while I lay on the floor. I’d rather lie on the floor than anywhere else when I watch a film, and it wasn’t until we started the second movie that she joined me.

Our home had very weak heating as it was 113 years old. It took our house a good hour to warm itself into a snug cocoon of comfort on the chilliest nights, and she was shivering.

“If you’re cold,” I told her, “you could join me down here on the floor.”

She smiled.

She always smiled.

And she climbed down beside me, tangling the two of us in a web of half a dozen blankets.

The pressure of her head on my bicep is a weight which seems so alien to me now. It seems like a sweet scent you smelt once in a dream, but woke up knowing it was too good to be real. Nostalgia weighs heavily on me now as I wish, like I have for a handful of other moments, to return to that instant and hold her again.

Beside me, she curled her body into my side.

“That’s a good shot,” I uttered while the film played. It was a wide, panning shot.

“I like watching movies with you,” she said with her right arm draped over my torso and her mouth close to my head. “I never would have noticed something like that.”

You want to make a man feel like a man? That’s how. Build him up. Tell him he’s good at what he does. Tell him he makes you see things differently. That’s how.

I don’t remember what else was said that night. I don’t remember our first kiss, or how it started. I vaguely remember the credits of the second film rolling in the background until the DVD clicked back to the main menu.

I remember telling her I was sick, and I wouldn’t want to get her sick, but she said she wanted to risk it anyway.

I remember liking her a lot; her tan skin and clear complexion added to the effect and the atmosphere of that night. I remember her quick wit and easy laugh. In fact, that was what had first drawn me to her — her sharp sense of humor. Not a krill of my sarcasm was permitted to swim past her without an equally funny response. She seemed to get it.

And she smiled while we kissed, I remember that.

Not many people smile when they kiss someone for the first time. To most, it is a serious responsibility. It is something you need to be careful about, or else you’ll screw it up. You can’t look like you’re enjoying it or you’ll spoil the sexiness of it.

But she didn’t care. She liked what she was doing and she wordlessly let me know.

It was a couple hours after midnight when we rose from the floor so she could drive home. I didn’t want the night to end. I didn’t want her to go. I was a youth pastor at the time, and even if there was no dirty play involved, I couldn’t have my kids finding out that I let girls spend the night at my crib. That, and I didn’t need the added temptation to begin with.

I hugged her goodbye and walked her to the frosty door. Not only did she leave the warm cocoon of our old house, she broke some invisible but very real barrier which exists for moments like that. It’s there for nearly every first kiss, and gets broken the instant one of the partners turns away or checks their phone. It’s in my family’s home on Christmas mornings while we open presents beside the tree, but it bursts like the thin membrane of a bubble as soon as one member gets up and goes to do something else. Just as a bubble cannot go on existing after something passes through its wall, the atmosphere is shattered when one person leaves the moment.

It was well below freezing outside, so she let her car warm up before pulling away from the curb and driving home on the icy streets.

We were never able to recover the magic of that first night together, and the fault is mine. The next time I saw her, it wasn’t the same. We fell to deeper conversation and my boundary-ridden brain wouldn’t permit me to have grace where it should have abounded.

If she doesn’t believe exactly as I do, I seemed to think, then there is no hope of a relationship. 

I like to think I’ve softened since then. I like to think I’ve expanded my boundaries to allow a few rays of grace to leak in. Grace is a weird thing. It’s a two-way street. It can’t go out of you if it’s not allowed in, yet once it does get in — really in — you can’t seem to contain it.

The biggest dispensers of grace are those people who know that they have been forgiven deeply. You don’t have to be a murderer or thief to drink deeply from the chalice of grace and forgiveness. Maybe you’re just a run-of-the-mill heartbreaker like me. Or some form of addict or narcissist.

Also, like me.

I learned from the fragile fabric of that night that I have the power to heal or destroy. I have the ability to break someone’s year and ruin them for a few months. I have the ability to cast a dark spot on the timeline of someone’s life, and I’m learning from that. I’m learning how to be a source of light more than darkness, but of course, that light doesn’t come from me, but merely through me.

Have you learned this yet? Have you learned what grace is?

I’m 27 now and I’m still learning. Nights like tonight when I reflect on the past help me to glean something real from them: An awareness of my selfishness. My depravity. They help me to experientially formulate the type of man I want to be in the future.

So may we all learn from the past. Though it’s vaporous and passes through our fingers like sand through a screen, may we remember what we have learned and grow wiser as a result. May we fill our baskets to the brim with memories we’ve learned from, digging into them often that we may grow in wisdom.

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