“Memories should be sharp when one has nothing else to live for.” Zelda Fitzgerald from Save Me the Waltz
In June of 1998, I was 35 years old. That month we moved our little family from a larger city where we had become part of a community of friends and supporters, to a small town 3 hours north of us. In this larger city, I had a place. I was content. I was happy. When we moved, towing our almost 2-year-old and almost 7-year old, I felt like the world had toppled off of its axis. I had moved many times as a child and as a youth, but leaving this place began a descent into my first adult memory of unhappiness. I was leaving a place where I felt grounded. With the move, I could envision my body and my spirit coming apart like a tree uprooting. We lived in this small town for five years. In the past 19 years, I have had many mileposts and experiences, good and bad, which have become the sum of my life so far. The sum of this life is memories.
Last evening my husband and I drove to that small town and ate at an iconic little restaurant which had been a staple for our family during those five years. We drove around afterward, and I felt a tinge of sadness and longing for our time there. We talked fondly of our young children being in awe of the train which traveled through town on a regular schedule. We laughed at the mischief they got into with new friends in this town. We drove past our old house which we restored and looked at the trees we planted. We surveyed the fence we had built. My husband wasn’t happy that the fence needed some care. The Hosta we planted was thriving. Our oak leaf hydrangeas have grown. They are my favorite. We remembered our neighbor, an old woman who wasn’t fond of us. When we had our fence built, we had a neighbor’s gate put in between our yards. That’s what good neighbors do. She planted a thorny rose bush on her side of the neighbor’s gate. At the time, it was so strange and hurtful. Last night the memory made us laugh. Time. Memories. She has since passed away. I would love to have said hello to her again. To see if time has softened her.
I like getting older and experiencing life. Having memories. Memories allow me to grow. Memories make me mad. Memories make me cry. Memories make me laugh. I am learning not to allow them to occupy my mind negatively. Age and maturity allow me to understand that in a few years I will be looking back on last night and I will have a memory with emotions based on where I am then.
I miss those times. The train. The grumpy neighbor. Our house. Our trees. Our children being young. I miss the person I was when I arrived.
Do I want to go back? No.
Memories are an indulgence. For a moment, you can pretend you are still in that place. You are with a certain person. You are experiencing happiness. You are wallowing in sadness. Who am I now? Who was I then? I have hopes of being better than I was then.
How can I look back and smile at something that was an unpleasant situation? The neighbor with the thorny rosebush, how can I smile at that now? How can I remember that I was so unhappy during this period in my life and felt so uprooted, yet have such fond memories? Your thoughts can create conflict in the space of your mind. One memory can be in concert with both pain and joy, orchestrating conflicting emotions. The sum of my life becomes memories. My memories are sharp. The Hosta and Oak Leaf Hydrangeas continue to flourish. The thorny rosebush is no longer there.