Memory: A Sweet Companion for Self-Awareness
My daughter’s wedding is in a few weeks. As we move closer to the event I find myself revisiting memories with more depth and, often, a surprising sense of fondness for moments originally embedded in struggle. Memories are elusive, I know. So these are the memories that have either remained over time or have been reinvented with the passing years as the difficulties have been washed with the effervescing cleansing of time.
I love memories. They dance with us, tease us, instigate us. But they aren’t real. The amygdala reminds the body with warnings from memory that had previously important heightened emotional response, not necessarily related to a current experience. Reactions from those difficult memories can get in the way of love, wisdom, and adventure. Memory is the brain and body interacting to record an experience. We know now that memory is not static, it shifts and changes over time, and without video recording there are always different perspectives from each witness. Some memories are forgotten. Some suddenly pop up at the most random moments. I depend on my memories to know who I am and to filter out who I used to be.
As I searched through the soundtrack of life with my daughter for the perfect song that feels like us, I sat a little longer with the feelings that came with images from the memories of those songs. As a true single mom—I never got child support or weekends off— when she was first born, we moved into a small apartment with linoleum floors and a laundry room down the stairs seemingly a half block away. The parking lot across the long yard was navigated during middle of the night darkness after long shifts I chose to work while she was sleeping. Doing so, I could spend longer days with her after I slept only three or four hours. I was lonely and scared. I’d look into her eyes and know I had to keep going. I had to keep learning, I had to keep doing better. I had to find myself, but first I had to care for her. I’d stare at her and wonder who she would become, what would she look like, who would she love?
So the other morning I played “I got sunshine on a cloudy day…what would make me feel this way…my girl…my girl…talkin ‘bout my girl…my girl!” I was transported back to that time long ago when I was so scared, yet so in love with my girl. The only memory that matters now is the rush of love I felt for my baby girl, walking to my car with the daily broken heart because I had to leave her to earn money to pay our bills and hopefully move on. With the tiny bundle in my arms I would plan and hope and dream. And sing.
The only feeling I really remember from that time is loving her—deeply, fully, completely enamored, soaked in pure adoration. I play this song and I go back into the memory and I tell that young woman that we are both ok. My daughter is a bright and lively career woman. She loves and is loved by someone who has been her best friend for 12 years, who told me he’d marry her when they weren’t even dating yet. We’ve stumbled and tumbled together. We made it. I made it.
What memories do I keep? As many as possible. I don’t want to forget the difficulties that still lie along the edges because I have to remember how hard I’ve worked and how far I’ve come. It’s sometimes in that effort and struggle we learn about ourselves and grow up and enjoy life. And it’s in the memory I can appreciate who I’ve become.
On a cloudy day, I always have that bundle in my arms giving me hope. Every day. Even now. As I prepare to walk her down the aisle I will walk both of us, from those memories long ago to our unknown future as this moment will become a memory for someday.