I was looking at the bulletin board above my desk and how it features several people I don't talk to anymore.
A couple of them are folks I still exchange words with on Facebook once in a while. Most of them are not. This bulletin board is ten years old. It pictures seven people I really don't talk to anymore.
One I don't talk to because it's my grandma and she has Alzheimer's and doesn't really hold conversations anymore, so that doesn't count. Another is my friend Mike and he died when he was twenty, so that doesn't count either.
The others are just . . . people who aren't really in my life. One is someone I used to chat with online almost every day in college, and I don't know what she's doing now. One is an old classmate who remained close with me for years before she moved out of state and remained an extremely private person to those outside her inner circle (and I guess I am outside of it). One is a friend who was very invested in communicating with me until he got married and I guess I'm not filling that need for him anymore. One is someone whose opinions and thoughts I value but with whom I just don't have much in common. One dropped out of my life after being a fixture for years, but he tested me once too often and stopped coming around when I started deliberately failing his tests.
If I'd made a similar billboard twenty years ago, I imagine the same thing would have happened--attrition for many, but surprising endurance of relationships that stood the test of time. I'm sure some of the people who were in my inner circle back then were people I considered lifelong friends, and I would have been shocked to learn they dropped out of my life in the future. In most cases I kinda don't care, though I still hold a candle for some of them. But even though I grew in a different direction from some of those people or we just lost track of each other, I don't really think I ever fell out of love with them.
I still carry the warmth I felt for those people. I still treasure the memories, and there are only a few that feel bitter in my recollection of the past. If many of them came back into my life, I would most likely welcome their presence there, though in most of these cases I also don't feel a draw to deliberately seek them out and rekindle the flame.
It's sort of like the hobbies I used to engage in. Did I fall out of love with them? Not really. There are just certain authors, certain musical artists, certain movies, certain shows, certain pastimes I don't find as compelling anymore. I've changed since those times, but I haven't changed fundamentally. So I still see what was very good about those things and why they deserved my attention, and why they contributed to who I became. I don't look back on who I was when I liked those things or those people and think I was silly. I'm not embarrassed of my tastes or my relationships from the past. I didn't stop loving them.
We don't have to make a clean break from our past to continue forward. Even the painful things have surely been formative in some way, and I think it's damaging to suggest that the only healthy way into the future is to cut these pieces out of ourselves. We don't have to love them or want to return to them, but we have to acknowledge what they did for us. And if it was really awful, we can learn to counteract it. But burying it and being resentful of it and ignoring it and denying that it was important? That will not free you.
I'm looking at some of these people on this board and I'm sad they aren't part of my life anymore. In a couple cases I am certainly thinking "thank goodness I don't have to deal with that anymore." I'm also looking at the ones who are still here and contemplating which photos of them I should use when I update this thing. But it's okay that some of these people aren't going to make it to the current billboard. I can love who they were then, and love that they contributed to my life. I can wish them well and still be content if I never see them again.