I heard a story on the radio Monday afternoon that is still in my mind this morning. It’s the story of Charles Greenlee, a black Florida man, who was falsely accused seventy years ago (along with three other young black men) of raping a seventeen-year-old white girl. He spent more than a decade in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and lived the rest of his life in the shadow of that judgment. He died at 78 in 2012, seven years before the state of Florida would pardon him.
The most memorable part of the story for me is his lack of bitterness. According to his daughter, Carol Greenlee, her father once said to her: “…Carol, stand up and look behind you. As long as you're looking behind you, you can't see your opportunities in front of you. You can't move forward in a positive way. And if you are doing something that's going to help only you, leave it alone.”
I look back too often, searching for what I could have said or done to change or improve this event or that. And the instances I examine are inconsequential when compared with what Charles Greenlee could have spent his life brooding over, trying to erase. He chose to cast aside his anger, angst, and frustration, as well as the discrimination, oppression, and imprisonment imposed on him. He chose to look forward.
I’d like to be able to do this in my life – to let go of past perceived injustices against me; to move on from mistakes I’ve made instead of continually reliving them; to unload the bad and look for the good. When I choose to let go of the burdens I carry from my past, I will be free to fully experience and embrace my future.