I saw them for the first time on the night of my eighth grade graduation, those two words. At first they were easy to overlook, to fold back into the card and plain white envelope that great Uncle Ray had so carefully chosen for the occasion. Then I heard them. As I leaned forward to give him a hug and to express my thankfulness for his gift, Uncle Ray whispered them into my ear. “Move forward,” he pronounced. “Move forward.”
Having stepped into the vault of wisdom that these words unlocked, I am not quite sure how I ever lived otherwise. But this is me after four years of reflection and reminders, of mistakes and lessons and recovery and forgiveness. I look back now and wonder if many people are privy to my uncle’s message. Indeed, it is not meant to be exclusive, yet it seems to reside only in the most optimistic and merciful souls.
Take Grampy Bill, a decorated World War II veteran whose joviality veils his experience in a hostile world. As a child, I once inquired about his Silver Star, hoping to catch a glimpse of atrocities tempered only by loyalty and heroism. I know that the gunshots still ring in his ears, that the bombs still detonate in the expanses of his memory, but he ignores the sounds and the images. He offers brighter tales. It wasn’t until several years ago that I learned that my grandfather had been stationed in Italy, where he disguised himself as a shepherd and de-mined an entire enemy field. Today, when Grampy regards his Silver Star framed on the wall, he doesn’t frown. He has since escaped from that field, from the torments of the war, to his own field of dreams. He has moved forward.
Even at 89 years old, he continues to move forward. When Uncle Biff and Grammy Barbara passed away within a year of each other, I was desperate for an explanation other than a list of numerous health complications. I wanted to know why my uncle and my grandma had been ripped out of my life. Grampy, on the other hand, never complained about losing his oldest son and his wife. He never relinquished the bounce in his step or the twinkle in his eye. When I see him and 90-year old Uncle Ray at my soccer games and track meets, I always wonder if they are sharing words of wisdom, encouragement, and hope. I wonder if they realize that they are the reason that I try, with all my heart, to move forward through life.
I believe that moving forward isn’t so much forgetting as it is accepting. It is looking at the world with optimism in spite of faults and injustices. It is the path to a healthier life, a bridge to a world in which lessons are learned from the most inopportune moments.
I know that Uncle Ray will once again offer these words to me upon my high school graduation next month. “Move forward,” he will say, but in a louder, more insistent voice. “Move forward,” I will repeat to my friends, “for the day that you do so is the day that you will master life.” This, I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.