lenses“Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.” 
― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

I have been writing this blog for nearly 4 years.  And, after 4 years it’s hard for me to introduce something new that my most avid readers will not have heard about before.  For as much as I have unpeeled my own onion, there are only so many layers to pull back and only so many stories to share.  Despite that, there are days – like today – when I feel like there is so much to say, so many words inside me that need to come out and I need to figure out how to package them into something new and fresh that does not sound like I am telling the same old story over and over.  I struggle to avoid the eye roll that I often give my husband when I tell him “Yes, I have heard this story before.  I know how this ends.”

Telling my story takes on many shapes and forms.  I sometimes share it through the lens that I have carried with me from childhood, through which I see the world as a little girl.  I look up at those around me, wondering who they are, what their motivations might be.  I am innocent and naive.  I am living in the world, trying to figure it all out.  Then, sometimes I pull that one off and put on the lens of motherhood.  I am mature.  I am responsible.  I am caring for others and hoping to guide them down a path that will lead them to positive outcomes.  I wear this lens with many beyond my children.  I play mother to those who I love the most.  I am fiercely protective of them.  I want to nurture them.  I care for them as if they are an extension of me.  The invisible umbilical cord that never connected us runs a fiber between us, allowing me to offer a blood supply coupled with warmth and comfort.  Sometimes I pull off that lens and put on the one of the broken adult.  The woman who tries to find her place in the world, sometimes wandering aimlessly, lost and confused.  In those moments I am incapable of accessing the strength I offer to those I care for nor am I am able to sustain my innocence and optimism, hoping for positive outcomes.  I am sad and dark and dismal when I wear that lens.  It is foggy and the window to my world is covered with dirt and grime that prevents me from seeing what is in front of me.  It is a distorted lens blanketed by a film that creates an unpleasant view.

Every day I have all my lenses at my disposal.  I have a full camera bag filled with many lenses through which I can see my life.  If I am living my life with the intention that I so adamantly set out to have at the kickoff of this year, then I am carefully choosing my lenses and accessing the right option for each situation.  Like any good photographer, I know my subjects and I know the right ways I need to view them.  But, alas, I am human.  I am not always living my life with my full intention.  Sometimes I am weakened and I struggle to be conscious.  Sometimes I wake up after a night of bad dreams.  A night filled with stress and anxiety that puts me on autopilot and the lens of fear slips on, without my awareness.  Without my control.  Unwillingly, I follow that eye and I am swept up in that darkness.  And then something shifts and, just as swiftly, I am back looking at the world through my lens of love and joy.

No, I am not bipolar.

Nope, no manic-depressive tendencies here.  Instead, I am real.  I am 100% imperfection.  I am an amalgamation of my experiences.  I’m a hodge podge, a complex patchwork.  I am forever a work in progress.

This morning, I had an early morning dentist appointment and found myself with some free time at 9am on a Saturday morning.  My kids were both where they needed to be.  My husband was taking care of projects at home.  I had nothing on the docket for a few hours so I had time to just be.  I chose to go to Starbucks and get myself a coffee before I headed back home and decided to be leisurely about it rather than my typical unconscious rush to grab a coffee before work, an appointment, squeezing in a fix in between other commitments.  I could stroll in, take my time, be present and aware and see where that took me.  I didn’t need anything else to occupy my time.  I really just needed to walk into Starbucks and let every sense take over inside me and see what happened.

This probably seems a little silly.  Just a trip to Starbucks to find myself?


That was my goal.

Here is what I know about myself.  When I attach my most powerful lens – the one through which I see the world as a progression of events, a series of memories, a fragrant aroma that heightens all of my senses, it does not matter where I am or what I do.  All that matters is that I am alive, breathing in oxygen and paying attention to what comes into my mind.  It is in those moments that I literally transform.  It is those simple little experiences that catapult me along my path.

This morning, as I walked across the street in South Orange to my local Starbucks, I was taking everything in.  As I pulled open the door, my mind drifted to every Starbucks I have ever been, literally transporting me to those places, a film reel playing in my head.  I started in my favorite Starbucks at Country Club Plaza in Kansas City where I recalled sitting at the counter across from my best friend nearly a year ago awkwardly pushing back tears after a painful argument, wanting to reach across and embrace him and fix everything.  I then traveled to the Starbucks in Laguna Beach where my husband and I would visit for a treat more than 20 years ago, long before Starbucks was national and trendy.  We would wander down the street, walking hand in hand and linger by the ocean while I would soak him in.  I couldn’t get close enough to him.  I wanted to crawl up inside him where I knew I would be safe and secure.  Then I drifted to the Starbucks in the suburbs of Boston where my partner and I stopped in July 2012 before arriving at our third partner’s house to have our first official offsite meeting to shape our fledgling startup.  I felt the energy and the excitement in my chest as the anticipation of the days to come, the opportunity that lay before us started to build.  Then I was at the Starbucks on 42nd and Lex in Manhattan that I frequented every day before work, where I cleared my head before heading up to my office to a job that I loved but I knew was killing me because I worked for a narcissist who was dredging up pain and squashing my spirit.  The boss that I am, ironically, most grateful for because she forced me to discover my truth while she tried to overpower me with her distorted perspectives.

Just opening that door this morning flooded me with memories that encompassed both joy and pain and I cherished every bit of it.  My lens of reflection was securely installed and showing me exactly what I needed to see.

Earlier this week when I was in Kansas City, my best friend and I were relishing in some downtime and sharing our lenses with one another.  I appreciate the good fortune of being able to attach one of his lenses, ever so briefly, to get a new perspective on myself.  I love looking at myself through the eyes of others.  He shared with me his appreciation of my ability to memorialize experiences in my life.  I never thought much about this before and certainly not in the way that he described it and it stayed with me long after we spoke because it was so intriguing to me.  I often struggle with my ability – rather, my need – to collect these memories and carry them with me.  It is a double-edged sword.  Sometimes these images tug at me with a longing that is insatiable.  Sometimes my mind tries to pull me back into those memories.  Sometimes I need them to assure me that all will be ok.  Other times they overwhelm me with sadness because they are now part of my history and I fear I will never experience those moments again.  I find myself wanting desperately to climb back into my mind and go back to those places – even some of the more unpleasant moments in order to try to correct them or experience them anew with another perspective.  More often, when I install my lens of nostalgia, my memories make me smile and fill my gaps.  I actually get blissfully lost in my memories.  I am sentimental about those times in my life and I go to battle with my fear of the impermanence of those extraordinary moments.  How can I preserve them?  Not to worry, my friend will tell me.  We will always make new ones.  The lens of fear does not allow me to have that perspective.

In contrast to my memorialization, my friend talked about his own ability to shift from one experience to another ever so seamlessly.  He tucks away his memories into a box that sends out a constant flow of air, continually filling him up, endlessly offering comfort.  He may venture back into his mind to revisit them but he doesn’t need to.  He has his pump working all the time.  His ability to tap into the power of his memories amazes me.  The way in which he carefully weaves his past experiences into his daily fabric seems magical and unattainable.  I marvel at and admire his skill, his determination.  And, all the same, he acknowledges that the power of my memories, the vivid quality and the imprint that they leave seem out of reach to him.  His memories become muted and flattened into his surface while mine stay three-dimensional but, often, out of reach.  It’s an interesting contrast.

On days like today, I cherish my ability to maintain my library and hold onto my history in a way that is so robust and so real, despite how it sometimes sits heavily inside me.  For, on some days, I need access to them and use them as a tool to warm me, to remind me of all the goodness that exists in my life.  I treasure those moments when all else is quiet and I can sip my coffee and reminisce through the photo album of my mind, of my heart.  Right then, I am richer.  I am buoyant. I am lifted up high.

My mind can certainly get noisy at times with all this inventory, all that memorabilia floating around, commingling with each other.  All of those experiences, the powerful scents, the extraordinary emotions attached to them, the soundtrack that plays behind them keep my mind busy.  Yet, they have a way of preserving the most beautiful and, even, sometimes, the ugliest aspects of my life so that I can draw on them to grow, to improve, to progress, to advance, to shift.  My unwillingness to stand still and my persistence to overcome are all supported by the crystalized images that are preserved so carefully inside me.  Sure, sometimes you might see me and I seem really far away.  Sometimes I hear “where did you go, just then?” and I know that I got pulled back.  I was captured by my memories.  I was dragged into a moment that was important for me to visit right then.

My life is a bittersweet ensemble.  I often wish I could escape the melancholy that comes over me at times.  But, I love that I can rest my head on my pillow at night and soothe myself with my memories.  I can attach that lens that allows me to look backwards to find comfort and warmth and give me peace.

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