Three Old Sayings That Teach Us What to Think About the Past

It’s easy to complain about how trite cliches are. It’s tempting to just dismiss them as platitudes that have lost all their meaning and effect. So, why are they so popular that even centuries after their initial creation people still use them regularly? 


Because there is a profound truth inside. 


Let’s take at look at three sayings that have something to say about how we should think about the past.



Don’t Cry Over Spilt Milk



This means you shouldn’t fret about something that has already happened and cannot be changed. 


This saying goes back in print perhaps as far as 1659. James Howell, a historian, used it in his book Paramoigraphy (Proverbs). Here he writes: 


“No weeping for shed milk.”


I remember one morning I was delivering milk to a customer. As I was gathering what I needed, one of the gallons toppled down the stairs, bounced off onto the pavement, and promptly burst like a water balloon at a birthday party.


There was a small pond of milk in the parking lot before I could count to three. 


Obviously, there was nothing I could do to put that milk back into the jug. It was now free, dirty, and clinging to the pavement. And the container had burst like I’d poured new wine into an old wineskin. 


Here’s the takeaway. What’s done is done. That’s it. All you can do is assess where you are, make the best of it, and move on. All the fretting in the world won’t put the milk back in the jug. 


So don’t cry over spilt milk. 



Don’t Cross the Bridge Before You Come to It



This one was first penned by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in The Golden Legend (1851).


It means you shouldn’t deal with a situation before it happens. 


It’s not a good idea to stew over something after it’s happened either. 


Of course, if you must, set aside some time to grieve, commiserate, plan, or whatever you have to do to bring the event to closure. 


I drove a truckload of apparel to a retail show in Alabama a few years ago. Along the way I crossed a bridge. I thought nothing of it until the whole body of the truck began to rock back and forth in a large arc. 


I panicked. 


The only thing I could think to do was immediately release the accelerator, apply pressure to the brake, and pray. 


After a short distance, the truck quit rocking. 


The rest of my caravan (thank God I had one) pulled over and we redistributed the load. 


When your freight isn’t loaded with the weight placed evenly across the cargo box, you’re asking for trouble. 


The same goes for your life. If you’ve got too much weight on the past, the present, or the future, your life will be out of balance. Live where you are now, do what you can, and the weight of life will be as level as it possibly can be. 



Fall Down Seven Times, Stand Up Eight



This is the Japanese equivalent of the English proverb “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” 


Life will hand you disappointments. You can count on it. 


Your lunch date will be fifteen minutes late. That customer you were sure would buy from you decides to go with a competitor. The investment you were sure would go bust ends up in the tank. 


You might be like I was when I went on a horrible hayride. 


Two girls sat beside me and pestered me until I nearly cried. I was young at the time. The pain was intense. I made a vow to myself that night. Never again would I ever attend a youth group function at my church if this is what they’d be like. 


I hadn’t heard about standing up when you fall down at the time. 


We really don’t like being hammered. But if we take a stand, say something daring, or do something outstanding, there’s always the chance someone out there will hammer you for it. Maybe she’s jealous and demeaning you makes her feel better about herself. Perhaps it’s just heartfelt insecurity on her part. Whatever the reason, don’t let people, events, or anything else keep you down on the ground. Get up. After all, you’re not dead yet. 


Don’t let a knockout from the past keep you down forever. See it for what it was. Sure, it was painful. But it’s an event. Now it’s over. Don’t let it form shackles on your arms and legs. Move on. 



Ancient Wisdom for Today

Truth is truth no matter how old it is. So don’t throw out cliches without considering why they’re still around. Grab the truth from them and use it. 


Don’t cry over the spilled milk of your past. It’s gone and you can’t change it.


Don’t cross a bridge before you come to it. And once you cross it, be glad it’s behind you. 


When you fall down seven times, get up eight times. Always be willing to get back up when life knocks you down. Getting up means moving on. 


Take these three lessons to heart. Do that, and you’ll never be shackled by the weight of the past.