The Weight of The Past

“Similar to the past’s effects on people, I believe that places with a history to them do leave an imprint to cause different emotions to bubble to the surface based on what occurred in those places.”

Similar to the past’s effects on people, I believe that places with a history to them do leave an imprint to cause different emotions to bubble to the surface based on what occurred in those places. People are often affected or morphed by what happened in their past though they are not defined by the past alone. The same could be said for those places you visit who spark up powerful emotions within us based on what happened there during its usage by people. However, when you visit a place that is a couple of decades old or even hundreds or thousands of years old, it leaves a mark on the visitor where you can feel the actual ‘weight’ of that place based on the history of what occurred there.

For some examples, places like Disneyworld, Universal Studios, or your average local street fair or amusement park, which elicit emotions out of us such as joy, wonder, excitement, and general happiness. In a similar way, your average local restaurant, community center, or place of religious worship tend to give off those same positive emotions based on their shared history of bringing people together for a common cause or common purpose.

However, you also have the opposite in terms of certain places in the world where you can feel the several mixed emotions that can arise from visiting there such as a historic fort or a castle or a battlefield. Where two sides fought to the death, there is a lot of pain, tragedy, and regret but also there are emotions surrounding the victory, triumph, or even the thrill of survival that would emerge from such places. A few examples from my own life that I could cite include the beaches and military cemeteries in the Normandy region of France, the expensive battlefield of Gettysburg during the American Civil War, and the grasslands that cover the previous battlefield of Waterloo during the Napoleonic Wars in Belgium.

There are also a few places in the world which involve such universal pain and human suffering that the weight of being there to witness the places in person where atrocities against people no different from you and I occurred can be almost overwhelming in terms of the emotional pain. To see the concentration camps of Auschwitz in Poland or Dachau in Germany and to also be on the grounds of a plantation where enslaved men, women, and children had their futures and freedom stolen from them to be used as expendable economic tools can make you sick to your stomach.

Such vile places need to be seen to be believed but you can feel the emotional weight of being there to know that dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people were brutally treated, beaten, or even murdered there can chill your spine while you’re there. While it can be difficult to go out of one’s way to visit such dark places where the worst of people is on display, we must go to such places despite the negative emotions you’ll feel while being there to prevent new places like that from ever popping up again in our world.

We must not only focus on those places that give us a sense of joy and happiness but recognize that we have to also go to those places that are infamous for their cruelty, hatred, and pain as well. There is a duality in terms of humanity that we have to reckon with in that we can better appreciate the good in life but realizing that there is also the ugly side to human nature that has been controlled and held in check whenever possible.

It is not just to feel the emotional weight of going to places where slavery, murder, torture, and pain were a daily occurrence for the men, women, and children who experienced it but to also realize that you need to pay witness to such places to make sure that we witness them in person so that other people cannot deny that those places even exist or that any evil did not happen there. By paying witness, we commit ourselves to the need to defend against such horrible places popping up in the future and by also instructing the next generations of young people about what happened there and why such places are left intact for them to visit. It would be great to demolish any mention of a plantation, a concentration camp, or even a battlefield but to do so would to be creating a sense of whitewashing the past and making it easier for such atrocities or violations against humanity from happening again in the future. We cannot risk the history being wiped away, which includes getting rid of any physical semblance of those places or the information, research, and facts along with it.

Now, I’m not saying you should go out of your way to visit historically traumatic places, but we need to be on our guard against those people who would deny that those places ever existed or what atrocities were committed there. I think this is especially important for students of different ages when they are old enough to go on class trips to such battlefields, plantations, concentration camps to witness the worst of humanity so that we can better ensure that ‘history does not repeat itself.’ It is not easy to convince parents or teachers of the utility of such visits, but part of life is realizing that not every place is like Disneyworld, and we have to understand the importance of highlighting the weight of places, both good and bad, and not ignoring one or the other.

One trip to such traumatic places is good enough as it can be deeply disturbing for people to go there and see the photos, watch the videos, and see the physical evidence of such atrocities in person. Such visits should be done with respect, attention, and long enough where the full impact of the emotional weight can be felt by those visitors. Most folks will never forget what emotions they were feeling when they were there and about hearing the history be brought to life for them so they realize it is not such pictures or information on pages in a book but real places in the world that we can point to and are being preserved.

For as long as I live, I will always remember the winter chill of being inside the gates of what was Auschwitz death camp in southern Poland and seeing the camps that stretched for what looked like miles. It was brutally cold, and snow covered the ground. You can only imagine how the innocent men, women, and children there would freeze to death in such conditions while they were huddled together in the bunks of those camps to keep warm while they were given barely any clothing, food, or water. The elderly Polish woman emphasized to us the importance of remembering what we witness on our tour of the death camps and how the people who don’t visit Auschwitz will also deny there ever was a Holocaust or that this camp even existed.

She made it clear to us that we as visitors and the entire world have the responsibility to make sure another Auschwitz never happens again because sadly, as she noted, it can happen again and has happened in other parts of the world. Wherever people’s freedom is snuffed out, where their human rights are denied, and where people are beaten, mistreated, or killed for who they are, what they believe, and where they came from, the lessons of Auschwitz and other dark places in our world will never be learned. She lowered her head and said a silent prayer at the end of our tour for the dearly departed.

Crave Discomfort

The mountain looks intimidating. You’re chilled to the bone as you make the final ascent. You didn’t think you were prepared for this moment but you wanted to push yourself to the physical limit. You made this hike not because it was easy but because it was hard. In order to understand your mentality and physicality better, you had to put yourself to the test.

There’s no other way to know what you are capable of than to test yourself and to do it often. It does not matter if you are cold, you are tired, you are hungry, you are sweaty, or you are sleepy, there are times in life when you must simply crave discomfort because you know deep down that you will be more fulfilled from pushing yourself than from having played it safe.

Imagine being on the side of that same mountain and you are rock climbing to get your way to the top. Each move that you make must be analyzed quickly so you don’t make a mistake. It’s likely that you will have a harness or some kind of restraint to catch you if you fall but that’s not always the case. You’re under a large amount of emotional stress and personal discomfort but you feel invigorated when you successfully climb or hike your way to the top. You’ll never regret those times when you put yourself out of your comfort zone especially when you are able to push yourself past those previously held limits that you thought you had.

There is no such thing as a challenge-free life. Putting yourself out there is going to be uncomfortable and you are going to be vulnerable. However, you may find that you will be the most fulfilled emotionally and physically when you challenge yourself. Discomfort as a concept may seem unappealing but it is in those moments or those times of discomfort where we advance the most.

Having the means of comfort may give short-term happiness but it is definitely unlikely to lead to long-term fulfillment. The only way to achieve satisfaction or fulfillment is to acclimate yourself to dealing with discomfort and being able to overcome it again and again. Being able to handle uncertainty will set you apart from other people and give you a level of maturity that will make you a stronger and more resilient person.

Discomfort does not only show up in the form of physical challenges but also in the realm of mental obstacles. Keeping your mind active by putting it to the test will improve you in numerous ways. Whether it’s reading a 400-page book, writing a research paper, or studying a foreign language, these mental challenges will definitely cause some discomfort and that’s a good thing. These personal projects will be very uncomfortable at first, but you will notice results when you stick with them, little bit by bit, and you’ll realize that the discomfort was worth it because of how far you have advanced with your mental development.

Living a life of ease and pleasure is not going to lead you to be the best person that you can become. Only by overcoming obstacles and meeting challenges will you be able to develop yourself fully. It’s good to kick back every now and then to relax and enjoy life yet that kind of pleasure is temporary. True personal growth lies in craving discomfort in whatever form it may yield the highest rewards for you. Whether it’s running a marathon or climbing a mountain to reach new physical capabilities or to writing a thesis paper for your doctorate or solving a complex physics equation, both our body and our mind need these challenges.

If you are ever feeling lethargic or lost, you should evaluate whether or not you are challenging yourself enough. Giving yourself personal goals to work towards will make you uncomfortable but you will also be able to greater fulfillment and longer lasting happiness. Being able to put yourself out there, use your physical and/or mental abilities, and logically think through and solve problems will get you out of your self-imposed funk.

Having a deeper purpose in life that is fulfilling and meaningful is necessary for everyone to pursue. Everybody will struggle at first to find out what exactly they were meant to do. Instead of doing nothing about it, I think it is best to try out different things that are uncomfortable to find out which challenges make you feel the most engaged and willing to overcome. Doing a bunch of different things to keep yourself active is better than to do nothing at all. Time is limited so it’s best to challenge yourself in a variety of ways first before you settle on the one or two major challenges in life that you want to succeed at.

Craving that discomfort is a necessary part of this part of self-development. Failure is possible and you may not ultimately succeed. However, if you fail, you will learn from having tried your hand at it and you will be the better person for it. Once you try at something, even without ultimate success, you know that you have the ability to take on challenges and eventually you’ll meet them without unease and with greater confidence. It is far better to have failed one hundred times and to have succeeded on your 101st try, then to have failed only once and then give up entirely without trying again.

Many people today shy away from being uncomfortable at all, even for a minute, but this is much to their detriment. Being in discomfort and going through painful times is part of being human. Without experiencing that pain and that discomfort, you won’t be able to become a stronger person. The person who has been through several trials by fire is the person you want around in times of discomfort and distress. You don’t want to be around a person who only indulges in pleasures and shies away from any pain.

Having physical toughness and mental fortitude to meet challenges head on are traits that you should want to make part of yourself for the rest of your life. Putting your fear and your doubts aside to climb that mountain, write that book, learn that language, or solve that Math problem will give you an advantage over others who deny themselves discomfort. You have to want to engage in the discomforts in life because in today’s day and age, it is easier than ever to avoid discomfort. Those who pursue discomfort will be rewarded long after the challenge(s) you set for yourself have been overcome.

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