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Sealing off the past with love

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

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Most of my memories of New Year's Eve skip right over that televised ball dropping in Times Square to the picture of a chambered nautilus that hung on the wall next to the television in my parents' Florida apartment where we all gathered.

While everyone else was counting down to midnight - Ten, nine, eight ... three, two, one! - I couldn't help thinking that those numbers represented the counting of the chambers in that nautilus shell, from oldest to newest. And, in a way, a much more fitting end to the year gone by.

As a nautilus grows in an ever-expanding spiral, it seals off the previous chamber it has outgrown. Water- and airtight, each empty chamber lightens the rest of the shell sheltering the creature. The more chambers outgrown, the more buoyant the shell.

The end of the calendar year often brings with it a desire to leave the past behind and start fresh. But more often than not, we find ourselves still shackled to unsealed mental chambers crowded with hurts, resentments, disappointments, and discouragements. Emptying and sealing these chambers can seem an impossible task. The more years we accumulate, the more we seem to drag around with us.

So what's the secret of the nautilus? How do we seal off those chambers and make sure they aren't simply entombing the weight still inside?

I got a glimpse of how to let my spiral grow lighter through an experience involving one of my most painful public moments.

I had been in a church meeting agitating for a particular action - pushing hard, in my youthful zeal, on the others involved in the decision. One of them, someone significantly older and much more experienced than I was, became so exasperated that he lost his temper and hollered at me to SHUT UP! The outburst left me mortified and in tears, him in embarrassment, and everyone else in a shocked silence.

Shortly afterward, he apologized to me and I to him. But the awfulness of the moment lingered for years. Every time I'd see him, I'd always recall how poorly that one exchange reflected on both of us. And though we continued to work together amicably on many different projects, he seemed just as awkward around me as I felt around him.

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