Age is just a number. It’s totally irrelevant unless, of course, you happen to be a bottle of wine.—Joan Collins
I was not raised in a house that understood wine. Sure, there was an academic knowledge of how it is made but beyond that, there was a fierce denial that wine could have any positive qualities at all. Our family not only didn’t drink, but we were raised to avoid anyone who did for fear they might be a “bad influence” on us, or drag down our reputation.
Then, I had my first glass of the real thing. Sweet. Red. Low alcohol content. I discovered that I could enjoy the glass presented with my desert and, contrary to all my mother’s warnings, not instantly become a gutter-hugging drunk. A few days later, I tried a glass of merlot with a meal and fell in love. I suddenly wanted to know everything about wine. I read. I talked to sommeliers. I went to tastings. We even bought a wine rack that was shaped like a cluster of grapes.
Normally, a bottle of wine never lasted more than 24 hours once it was opened. We enjoyed the wine too much to let any dregs sit in a bottle. One day, however, I was going through the wine rack looking for a specific vintage and came across a bottle that had been opened and then returned. When it had been opened, I didn’t know. Who had opened it was a mystery. The bottle was still almost full, less than half a glass had been removed. So, I took the bottle, removed the cork, and promptly took three steps back. The wine had turned to vinegar, and not a pleasant vinegar at that. Down the sink went the remains.
I bring up that subject because this weekend is one of those times when we can be tempted to re-open the old bottles of wine in our lives. With Valentine’s Day, we can be tempted to re-open past conversations, re-visit past relationships, things that we have left behind for good reason, but still wonder if they might yet be salvaged. The answer in most cases is no, they can’t. Like wine that has been opened, those things from the past have only soured.
One of the worst mistakes I made when I was younger was to re-open conversations that had been set aside. These would be tense words where no solution had been found, where walking away and not mentioning the matter had been the best solution. Conversations involving matters of human rights, religion, or constructs of government were topics that I frequently, and incorrectly, thought I had under command. I always thought I was right. Why else would I revisit a topic if I wasn’t sure that I needed to correct a gross misunderstanding?
I can be a slow learner sometimes and didn’t realize that there are moments where being right or wrong on a topic is irrelevant. Acquaintances who were once friendly became distant and found reasons to avoid contact when they feared I might yet, again, bring up a conversation that had been uncomfortable or contentious. I was sadly oblivious to the social vinegar I was asking, forcing, others to drink.
Even worse can be when we return to past relationships. When I’m looking through old pictures, such as the two used here that are over ten years old, I often think to myself, “I wonder what they are doing now?” For better or worse, social media makes it easier than ever to answer that question. I’ll find someone on Facebook, or, far too frequently, LinkedIn will insist that I need to connect with someone I had willfully forgotten. Many times I am tempted to click that button, to make a new friend request, but I’ve learned to leave those old relationships alone and just enjoy the memories. If we have not spoken for years, there is quite likely a very good reason.
As I get older, I sometimes regret letting relationships grow sour, especially when a simple apology might have negated ill feelings in the first place. One sits and looks at that old bottle of wine wondering if it might yet be salvaged. Is it too late to apologize? If an apology is offered, will it be accepted?
Occasionally, I’ll come across an article (like this one) that claims to have a solution for “fixing” wine that has gone bad; it’s a nice dream, but I’ve not found one yet that actually works. Sure, we all like the fairy tale of lost souls finding each other again after all the years and falling in love, or becoming close friends. Sometimes the risk pays off and if that old bottle of wine represents a relationship with a family member, then perhaps taking the risk is justified.
Still, more often than not, it’s best to just not re-open those old bottles at all. Enjoy the memories of the wine when it was good. Keep the bottle as a token of a special time if you wish. But should you open that bottle, be prepared for the reality that all you’re likely to get is vinegar.