The Power of the Past

Taha Shafei

Our pasts, though they may not define us, shape us. They twist our malleable forms into reflections of our lives, so mangled that, at times, we can not grasp what we truly are.


My earliest memories are moments with my parents in our, albeit cockroach-infested then flooded, apartment in Canada and tumbling down a hill after losing control of my cracked plastic sled. But that is not all I remember. I remember feeling weak, isolated, and ashamed. Ashamed of where I had come from, the language that I spoke, and the color of my skin. I remember desperately trying to hide away in a world of my own creation. I suffered in school, both academically and emotionally. I felt alone and worthless. Like a brown speck of dust on a white canvas, ready to be blown off at a moment’s notice.


There would be cold nights where I would stay up, praying I could change. That come morning, I would be different, look different, that I would feel accepted. Come fifth grade, my prayers were answered, just not how I had envisioned. Moving to California was both a blessing and a curse. I now looked the part, surrounded by others with this particular shade of brown, but internally this camouflage did not take. I felt like a fraud. I was a fraud. That this past that I so desperately wanted to escape and forget was stopping me from feeling accepted.


Even now, eight years after leaving Canada, I still feel alone. In a place where I once prayed I would be, I feel more isolated than ever. Thoughts linger and poke at me from the shadows, blaming me for how I feel. That it is my fault that I still feel worthless. That it is my fault, I feel like a failure, a fraud. And perhaps they are right. Perhaps it is my fault. Perhaps I have been too closed off from everything for so long, so afraid that I would feel worse, that I have become numb to the warmth surrounding me. That perhaps now, after all this time, I am incapable of change – condemned to suffer like this internally to the end of my days.


We have now reached the point where I must impart upon you some overarching lesson. How, after months of therapy, I have become a devoted follower of one of many mindfulness techniques and proceed to inadvertently admit that what you have read has been a very sophisticated form of clickbait. This is not that sort of column. I have yet to reach any conclusion or even start seeing myself as anything other than a mismatched mosaic of failure, lies, and shame. Hell, I don’t know what will feels worse: keeping up this charade that I have built for myself or confronting that I will never achieve the one thing I believe would fix me.


What I do know, what has been repeated by the few people I confide in, and what has kept me going through the endlessly identical days and years, is that it will get better. It has to get better. I have to get better.