I Find Myself in Memory
August 15, 2019
When you reach that certain age, and it's different for all of us, you look back fondly and see the girl you were, the child you were, the free-spirited young thing without a care in the world, and you marvel at how she turned out.
Despite numerous hardships, that little one is still making her mark on the world.
Today, at my age, on the fast road to 70, I see that little girl more and more. I find myself in memory.
Myself is a personal word. Who am I? Am I this woman, given to despair and worry? Am I that woman, the one who said she would, she could, so she did? Am I the child who thought the world was an unhappy place to be and why stay in it any longer?
In memory, these days, I see that child and watch her move cautiously in her world, all the while basking in the summer sun, with groups of friends who had nothing more on their minds than whatever mischief they could cause that day. It was all about the freedom.
That child, who wasn't fond of her brother - the brother I am so dearly bonded to today - and was definitely not happy about that new baby in the house; that child was like any other child, and if her life at home was trying, it's likely the lives of all the other children had their moments of trials and tribulations, also.
So, what does that child have to do with me, now? If I find myself in memory, what 'self' am I finding? And, how is it that I enjoy the memories more now, than I did 20 years ago?
Memory is a tricky thing, to be sure. A fickle friend, at best. A trickster snickering at the movie it slips into our consciousness, bidden or unbidden, it makes no matter.
We all remember according what we were feeling at the time. Those around us, at the same moment, experiencing the day, may say, "No, it didn't happen that way. It happened like this," and go on to tell a completely different story. Because they experienced that moment differently.
Memory can be triggered by smell. You walk into a room, a store, a friend's home, and smell roses, or apples, or break baking, and suddenly you're back at your childhood home, with family, on a winter afternoon, and everyone is laughing. You don't remember what they were laughing about, you only remember there was the smell of bread baking, or rose, or apples.
Psychology Today tells us:
"Emotional memories are powerful and serve to guide and inform us as we navigate the present and prepare for the future."
Memory can be cruel. A word spoken, or a sound outside the window, can remind you of some horror you have spent years forgetting, and there it is, coming full force, back to slam you against the wall and haunt you like the specter of a nightmare in living color.
I see old pictures and wonder who that child is, in them. The child people tell me is me. I don't remember the picture. I don't remember that child. I have curly hair in these pictures. I don't remember having curly hair.
The scattered landscape of memory can be confusing, don't you think? It offers up select images, select conversations, select, experiences, and insists they are real. Our memory tells us this happened, in just this way - if it didn't, then how are we to know? We trust that voice who says it was just like this, don't let anyone tell you different.
In my house, Tom (my husband) routinely remember events differently. Little nuances. We agree the event happened and we were there. We agree on whomever else was there. We agree on many things, but sometimes we argue over the date, or the location, or the very reason for the event.
"How can you not remember that?" I accuse. "It was just last week."
He shrugs. "I remember it. I just don't remember it the way you do."
It's all good. I am often the one who gets the date wrong, or the conversation, or who said what to whom.
What's intriguing is that the memory, fresh as it is in these disagreements, is not all that important. The important things, the childhoods we still visit in our moments of muse, are what's important.
In quiet moments, at my desk, when Emily (our dog) has not yet risen, oh she is old now, she no longer rises at 6 am, I ignore the buzzing in my ears and listen for the other sounds of morning. I hear birds calling. I hear the rush of an occasional commuter off to work. I hear the fan above my head, whirling softly to offer a gentle breeze, which tells me the day will get hot, soon enough.
It's in these moments I find myself in memory. I look back at my mother, may God rest her soul, and I wonder what was going through her mind, as she stood at the stove cooking dinner. She had two young children and an infant, at the time I am talking. She never seemed happy. I was a trial, no doubt.
"Watch the baby," she would say, because at 9 I was old enough to watch the baby, back in the long ago days when 9 year old were trusted with the younger children as a matter of fact.
I, of course, resented the baby, and showed it.
"Don't you hurt that baby!" my mother would admonish.
I would put the baby in her stroller and call my brother to come go for a walk. And then I would race around the block, top speed, pushing baby with everything I had in me. My brother would follow to the best of his ability, but in memory, I know he was there, I just don't see him. How strange is that?
Baby survived. She is an amazing woman now, and has no memory of those races around the block. I wonder now, why do I remember them?
Why do I, do we, as human beings, visit those days, those moments, as if they still have something to teach us?
I look at my grandchildren and think, "You are too precious! Will you grow out of childhood and look back to remember me, as someone who could not get enough of you?"
They are making strong, happy memories. I wonder what their brains will share with them, when they are my age.
Will they look back and wish time had stood still, to get more of the wonders of a free and easy childhood? Will they wish they had asked me more questions about life - my life, so different than theirs?
I never thought, when I thought at all, that my childhood was worth remembering.
And now, in moments of reflection, I find myself in memory. A dear child who, like most children, saw the world through a lens distorted by her heart. The world she saw was good or bad, depending on what her heart told her that day.
Memory must depend on heart, then. Memory must do what heart tells it. Memory must choose those sweet moments, or dark nightmare moments, at the will of the heart.
I give my heart permission to show me the happy and the sad, and to help me grow as a result of what I see.
If I find myself in memory, then, I learn more abut life and other people, when I see myself in memory.
Is that universal? Or am I the only one who does this?
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