Hello There!

My name is Matt Cambridge. I started this blog in 2016 when I moved back to the US after living abroad for two years and discovered a passion for writing. Here you’ll find monthly posts about my life: Work. Marriage. Parenting. Triumph. Failure. If reading my work helps you to laugh, cry, and think, I’ll be happy. You can read more of my work monthly at the post calvin.

Looking Back and Looking Forward

Looking Back and Looking Forward

Thumbnail photo by  Andrew Neel  on  Unsplash

Thumbnail photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

{3 min read}

I continue outward to yet another, unseen ring – those who may enter my life a decade from now… the habits of today affect the relationships of tomorrow even if those relationships are currently unknown and unnamed. – Jeff Manion, Dream Big, Think Small

--

“There were a lot of places we only spent one full day in or less, right”?

“Basel, Milan, Bruges, Amsterdam, Sarajevo…” I list. Sarajevo really left an impact on us. We’re both raiding our memories for a few more places.

“Bratislava, obviously… it was only a 2-and-a-half-hour train ride…”

“Did we spend more than a full day in Vienna”? Kendahl asks.

“We were there twice, but not more than one full day total,” I remember. Add it to the list.

We sit, glasses of wine in hand, and continue to reminisce. It’s a mid-March evening, and Spring is finally beginning to show itself. We look out at the driveway and yard, so glad the sun is still in the sky at 7 PM and the temperature only requires a light jacket. We’re allowing ourselves a rare in-depth conversation about our travels over the past two years. That Croatia trip was special, I say. She agrees. Sitting in that small café, writing in a notebook and sipping on beer while sitting on a corner couch and waiting out the rain. I think back to that last Vienna trip, of seeing Mumford & Sons there, knowing the Hungary experience was coming to an end.

No flame burns forever (oh no)  /  You and I both know this all too well  /  And most don’t even last the night

The thing is, this year has been nothing like last year for me. It has been hard. It has been lonely. It has, at times, been boring.

I don’t say this to provoke sympathy or ask for support. It’s the simple truth. It has been a very good year, full of blessings and new friends and lots of learning. But it's been hard. I've come to realize in the past few months that there is a simple reason for that: 

Living and teaching and traveling in Hungary for two years was a chance to look back.

This year, quite simply, has been a chance to look forward.

I know. LIVE IN THE MOMENT! CARPE DIEM! And LOOK BOTH WAYS! And DON’T EAT YELLOW SNOW! And PAY YOUR TAXES! I know. I know. But still. 

So let us advance this idea of looking back and looking forward.

                                                                 Croatia. 

                                                                Croatia. 

If you don't know what I mean, let me provide you with a beautiful metaphor: Russell Westbrook, the TRIPLE DOUBLE KING OF THE NBA, will spend the rest of the postseason on his couch looking back at his amazing regular season. LeBron James, the NBA's best player, is looking forward to the next series, to his seventh straight finals, and to his legacy. Make sense? 

I believe there are times in life that provide us a space and context to look back and focus on how we got here. Other times, life provides us the (sometimes mundane or unexciting, sometimes scary) opportunity to look ahead and prepare for the work that awaits us, the people we have yet to impact.

For me, Hungary was a chance to really think about how every heartbreak and triumph in my life had prepared me for where I was and what I was doing, the people I was working with and impacting. It was a chance to look back.

This year has been a chance to think about how everything I am doing now will prepare me for the heartbreaks and triumphs of the future, the people I will work with and impact later. It’s a chance to look forward.

The latter is much harder.

Social psychology tells us we tend to look back on the past more optimistically than we saw it in the moment. Makes sense, right? The past is neat and clean; it already happened and there is no mystery or fear associated with it. (Of course, this excludes traumatic or otherwise abusive and terrible memories). It’s easy to remember the better parts and gloss over the hard stuff you had to deal with. When I think about Hungary, I think about my favorite students and the amazing travel, but I don’t often think about the two painful months of paperwork before we got our first paychecks or getting lost in Germany or not feeling respected or valued. 

This year has been difficult because going to school and working at a breakfast restaurant aren’t what I’ve been preparing for. Leading Young Life, doing theater and working to prepare creative orientation sessions at Calvin had prepared me uniquely to do a good job in Hungary. Applying for and not getting jobs I really wanted and not making that soccer team growing up prepared me to empathize with my students when they went through difficult times. I could see the link, and it inspired and energized me.

That link, this year, has become murky and almost invisible. It’s hard to see how my experiences growing up and in Hungary have prepared me for this period. Based on the past two years, shouldn’t I be acting in major films and living in New Zealand by now?! Isn’t life linear and neat and clean and easy?! WHAT IS HAPPENING?!?!

The reality is, this is a year that I won’t see the fruits of for months or years to come. It’s more difficult to see and measure the impact of this year. 

Hungary was a finish line. This year has been a starting line.

It’s probably not that simple; We will always spend time looking back. We will always think back to our childhoods, high school and college years, and beyond, and I truly do believe each step in life prepares us for the next step.

But stages set apart for looking forward require faith, which is belief in something we do not yet see. They require courage, which is the continual moving forward amidst something that is scary. They require day-after-day, week-after-week consistency, or the ability to engage in an activity past the point where it is interesting, because lasting impact truly takes time.

--

We take another sip of wine. I think back to the everyday bus rides to school, past the Jegpalota, past the ice cream store, past the Currency converter which expressed in neon green the relationship between the US dollar and the forint. I think about the after-school soccer matches, saying SZIASTOOKKKK to my students in the hallway, and, of course, the day-only travels that left an impact on us. I look out at the driveway and give thanks.

Amidst a year of looking forward, it hits me like a wave: it’s so refreshing to take a moment to look back.  

An Ode to Good Friends

An Ode to Good Friends

Restaurant by the Hospital

Restaurant by the Hospital