When I listen to this audio clip, it shocks me every time even though I know what’s coming. I always jump when I hear the crash; I always shudder when I hear myself groan. It was 2011, and I was thinking about writing a post on hindsight, a post that would become my first on this blog and an anchoring essay for my website, explaining why I think stories matter. I still believe in everything I wrote then, but I didn’t say everything I needed to say.
Rewind to January of 2011. I was sitting at a stoplight and decided to dictate a thought into my digital recorder. While at a complete standstill, narrating an opening sentence for the hindsight piece, a car came up from behind me and crashed into my bumper right as I was saying the words, “Wouldn’t we all love to have the 20/20 vision of hindsight?” Ironically, I caught it all on tape. How crazy is that? Even if you are not inclined to believe in messages from the universe, the coincidence was pretty hard to ignore.
Though the crash sounds alarming on the recording, like a mix between a gunshot and an air bag deploying, it was actually only the barest of fender benders. In fact, no fenders were bent all. There wasn’t a single scratch on my car or the car that hit me, nor was I or the other driver hurt in any way.
My first reaction when I heard the clip was that it was a startlingly perfect introduction to a piece on hindsight. I immediately planned to use it in the blog post. I drafted and re-drafted, yet, in the end, I omitted mention of the crash and the recording. I wasn’t sure why, but I didn’t want to share the audio. The sound of the crash felt violent, even though in reality it was only a moderate bump. My groan sounded vulnerable and bewildered, a little bit helpless, actually. I’d never heard myself sound like that. I mean, of course, I have felt and sounded bewildered and vulnerable at points in my life, but I’d never heard it played back to me before. It felt too private to share.
Hindsight is the complete opposite of the raw, real moment I accidentally captured on tape; it is neat and tidy, no loose ends or gray areas, no question marks or uncertainty. Once you look back with the benefit of reflection, you can make all the dots connect and eliminate all surprises if you work hard enough at it. Let’s face it, hindsight is for the times when things didn’t go the way you wanted, when the going got tough, when the bottom fell out, when you lost your way. When everything goes perfectly, who needs hindsight?
In my original post, I wrote:
“Maybe the real purpose of hindsight is to help us make sense of what we’ve been through, to sort through the messy details of the ups and downs and turn them into a story with a beginning, middle and end. And, ultimately— if we are willing— to offer our story to someone else. Because in sharing our own story we can help others feel less alone, more connected, more empowered or simply comforted in the midst of their own moments of not knowing. In return, we might be lucky enough to have someone else’s story reach us at the moment we need it most.”
As I said, I still agree with everything I wrote earlier. If anything, I believe it even more strongly today than when I wrote it. I continually run into instances in my daily life when, by seeming serendipity, a story from my experiences is able to help someone else or someone else’s story reaches me just when I need it most.
But, I think there is more I should have said.
Maybe the point of hindsight is not just about sorting through the details of what happened to make sense of it, to give the story an orderly retelling. And maybe the point is not just to glean the helpful lessons that came out a challlenging or painful time. Perhaps it’s also about keeping the ragged edges and loose ends that were part of the real story. And about remembering what it feels like to stand in those places of uncertainty or pain, of raw vulnerability. Perhaps the messy details are actually what help us remember the feelings as much as the facts.
Because when someone in the future comes to us for support or wisdom in the midst of his or her own crisis or challenge, or when we find ourselves unexpectedly in that midst again, the specific solutions we can offer from our past experiences may be far less important than our ability to remember what those spaces feel like and to stand as living evidence that as uncomfortable and painful as those places feel, there is a way through and beyond them.