I saw a photo today of people I knew in college. I looked at the picture several times because, while the names looked familiar from the tags on Facebook, I could not place the faces. In fact, I really couldn’t much place the names either but there was some ring of familiarity to them so I squinted and taxed my brain and tried to remember. It was hard. Granted, nearly 25 years has gone by – almost half of my life has happened since I graduated from college – but it disturbed me that I could not remember. I was frustrated that I could not place them. It feels like life is so fleeting and I could not help but wonder who, in 25 years, I would not be able to place. Which people who play such a big part of my life today will drift into the obscure regions of my brain and will no longer conjure up clear, distinct memories? Certainly, I hope no one but I know that is not true. I know that life changes so rapidly and people come and go based on your life’s circumstances. People change jobs, they move, you drift apart. It makes me want to hang on so tightly. It makes me think that I need to commit even more effort to those meaningful relationships to ensure that they endure, that they survive the shifts that so naturally occur in our lives.
I know that change happens in between the milliseconds of time. I desperately try to slow it down and attempt to capture each moment in order to witness the changes as they occur but it is something like trying to watch a movie and seeing each frame. It is moving far too fast and our brains cannot keep up. Regrettably, we can only identify change after it has occurred when we reflect on the difference – the noticeable aspects of someone or something that is not like it was. Sometimes even after the fact it is imperceptible. “What’s different about you?” you might ask a friend. You know it is there but you cannot see it. Change happens before our eyes but without our eyes being able to see it.
Part of my aching melancholy in life is that I am forever wanting to capture every moment and absorb every last drop of it so I can taste it, let it roll around on my tongue for a while and adhere some permanent memory to my brain. I want to soak in all of the spectacular – and the not-so-spectacular – aspects of my life so I lose nothing. Instead, I spend a great deal of time reflecting, trying to recapture, revisit and relish in all those moments. I worry that, as distance grows, I will forget. When I am away from home, I try to carry with me reminders of my children. I want more than just photographs. I like to store away very specific memories that can dance around in my head so I can visit with them in my mind when I cannot be with them in person. I close my eyes each time I take off on a plane and play my mental reel, remembering the small moments, the specks of time that made me smile, that made my heart melt. I ache when I return home and I am certain they have each grown just a little bit taller or their voices have sunken just a little bit deeper while I was away. Those changes happen during my brief absences yet sometimes it feels like months or years have passed. Something always shifts while I am gone and I can’t always figure out exactly what but I simply cannot put things back together in the same way from before I left.
In my coaching group, I recently asked my participants to write about a superpower they wish they had. I thought a lot about this for myself because I never really admired superheroes for their special skills. I never wanted to fly or have x-ray vision like SuperMan. I never wanted to have special weapons or fighting skills like Wonder Woman. What I always fantasized about was time travel. I wanted to be able to go back and revisit experiences in my life to either relive them or intervene and make corrections. I want the ability to go back to those amazing moments in time that I struggle to preserve in my mind and see them all over again. I want to visit with those people from whom I have drifted and remember our special moments and try to recapture some of the magic of those experiences that time has clouded over, leaving behind distant and unfamiliar blurs. I’d love the ability to make some different choices and perhaps change some situations but, most of all, I just want to visit my memories in full technicolor.
But, alas, absent those abilities, perhaps my journey includes learning to catalog all the wonderful moments of my life and preserve them in my own type of mental storage shed. Perhaps my lesson is to learn how to extract all the critical vitamins and minerals from those memories in order to use them to nourish me during difficult moments. Maybe I can learn to utilize all the memories to make sure that my past does not slip like sand through my fingers. Rather than hanging on for dear life, my fingers slipping from the ledge, I can just let go and drift on into my future blanketed by my history ready to ease my fall.
This afternoon while driving around with my younger son, we had the windows opened, enjoying the first taste of spring. As we drove down one particular winding road, my son declared ” Mommy, can you smell those smells? It’s like fresh trees! I love this street!” His innocent little 9 year-old brain was enraptured with the early fragrances of the season and the bounty of the fresh air coming in through the windows. Of course, we could smell the same scents as we drove up our own street but he was convinced this was a magical place that held these special smells. “Close your eyes and try to remember the smell,” I told him. “Try to take a picture in your mind so you will always remember this moment with these smells. Then you will always remember this time when you smell these smells in the future.” He only understood me a little bit but I knew that I was trying to pass on to him the guidance I give to myself. I wanted him to be able to always place his memories and be able to observe his life through a lens other than his eyes. I wanted him to be able to observe his life and all the changes that take place through the memories burnt into his brain. I hope that when he is 45 and trying to remember the roads in the town he grew up in that he will close his eyes and remember our little spring drive today.