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Moving through the Pain of the Past} ?> “Look at my eyes, Faye. One of them is a fake cause I lost it in an accident. Since then, I’ve been seeing the past in one eye, and the present in the other, so I thought I could only see patches of reality, never the whole picture.”
Spike Spiegel, the protagonist of the classic sci-fi anime, Cowboy Bebop, spends the series living in the present but fighting with his past. Formerly a violent member of a crime syndicate, Spike reinvented himself as a bounty hunter, partnering with Jet Black, a former cop, and picking up other crew along the way. And while almost every episode of the series focuses on the present and how the crew of the Cowboy Bebop try to attain bounties, certain episodes are directed toward the past, with a finale that brings Spike into a collision course with his former life.
Spike hasn’t been running away from the past, per se; he just hasn’t been dealing with it. Why would he? As dangerous as his life is as a bounty hunter, it’s still calmer than what he had in the syndicate, and Spike seems to feel that he’s risen from the dead for a reason (certainly not to become a gangster again). But Spike’s past keeps drawing him in. The same can be said with the others on crew, but there’s a difference, as each is able to resolve his or her past: Jet moves on from his former love once and for all; Ed and Ein find a permanent home; and Faye accepts that her younger life has passed her by.
Faye’s story may be the most intriguing among the crew. She was involved in a great space accident in her youth and was put into cryofreeze; after being awoken, and with only fragments of her memory remaining, she enters into a life of crime to pay off the unfathomable debt she has accumulated. Late in the series, Faye leaves her shipmates to dig into and uncover her past. Her search doesn’t end happily, but it still provides some finality for her and in fact, moves her back toward the direction of the Bebop, which she now realizes is home.
That sense of home is immediately shaken when she finds that Spike, who has been contemplating his own history, might be leaving forever. By this point in the show, he is the only one who has yet to resolve his past. Spike hasn’t been running from it, but neither has he been facing it; it’s a part of him that he would just rather forget.
I know I would like to just move on from my own history, to avoid the ugly aftermath of poor decisions I made and people I hurt in my selfish wake. I cringe at moments of immaturity from my youth, but worse than those are the decisions I made as an adult, relationships that suffered and choices made in situations I should have approached with more tact, more wisdom, more love.
As I get older, I realize that there really is no running away from the past. The repercussions of my past live on in how I react to people, how I feel, and how I’ve impacted others.
I used to bottle up my anger and bitterness inside until it would get the best of me. This happened once when I snapped at a neighbour about something he really couldn’t help. Although I apologized shortly afterward, that incident reminded me of a similar conflict with a roommate during college. My bitterness toward him was like a thorn in my side, an emotion I tried to avoid but that just wouldn’t go away. I decided to stop running and visited him, apologizing for being a bad roommate and a poor friend, and I felt much better bringing that chapter of my life to a close.
I think Spike sees his crewmates coming to terms with their pasts and it spurs him to do the same. It’s shortly after Ed leaves, an event that seems to really impact Spike, that he decides to confront his nemesis, possibly in a duel to the death. Despite Faye’s protestations, he is determined to go, replying, “I’m not going there to die; I’m going to find out if I’m really alive.”
That line always struck me as odd. How will Spike find out he’s “really alive” by fighting someone who is likely to kill him? But then I realized Spike needs that closure to move on with his life.
My past sins may not completely define me, but they are considerable in shaping the person I become. I can’t deny that the things I did in my past, the things done to me, and the events I experienced have molded my life. The person I am now is inextricably connected to my life back then.
Like Spike, I sometimes need to work out my transgressions to keep maturing and growing. In some cases, as with Faye, I might not like the answers I find. But regardless of outcome, regardless of shame, regret, or sadness, I know that I have reason to be thankful, because the pains of my past—and how I rise to meet my ghosts now—help move me toward becoming the person I want to be.