You can’t choose your memories. They choose you. For some reason, I will always remember a visit to my grandparents’ house and the smell of ivy and the painting of an old, bearded man sitting at the dinner table. Or the morning of February 26, 1979. My mother awoke me with kisses to wish me a happy birthday. I was six years old and we were going to watch a total eclipse. She held me while we watched it get completely dark outside. It was cloudy but the darkness came quickly, with strength. Had my mother not been there to forewarn me, it would have been frightening. But the clearest moment I remember is not the eclipse. It was when the sun returned. I watched the confused seagulls land in our pastures looking for a place of rest from the non-existent storm.
I’ll never forget a day when I was sent out to call a boy who was visiting into the house. He hid from me and laughed at me from behind trees. I was incensed. I can still see his face taunting me. I will always remember a morning walk near the woods and scaring a heron into flight. The hoarse croaking echoed over the fields as the heron’s great wings pushed through the fog. It was one of the most aching, solemn moments I ever experienced.
The moments are brief. Just a moment. And yet it remains so vivid, forever etched in perfection in the mind. There are so many happy, lovely times that I try to capture forever. Lying on the pillow, looking at Paul asleep, I know I’ve thought to myself, “I want to remember this moment, how he looks right now.” Or a beautiful moment of togetherness around the table. Or a sweet hug and whispered sweet-something from one of the girls. I know I’ve had these moments. I remember having this thought process. I remember the generalities of the picture. But it isn’t etched sharp in the memory like so many of these other random photo-memories are. It’s as if my mind is an untrained photographer. Instead of focusing on what is important, it clicks when it’s pointed at the ground, or cuts off the heads of the principal people, or catches the sunset while missing the major scene behind me.
Today, I had a hint that perhaps my mind would forever remember a moment. I made a payment for Greta’s volleyball and returned to the van. The girls had removed boxes full of clothes and items from the back of the van to find Greta’s tennis shoes. The picture of the parking lot with the back of the van open and the boxes littered around it will perhaps stick forever. There were no feelings attached to it. I didn’t interpret it in sadness, frustration, or anger. It was just click.
Perhaps our brains take a random shot of every stage of life. From the frame pours all kinds of feelings and associations. And that frame somehow affects the direction of your life. It’s as if I’m heading in a line and the click slightly turns me to the right or left. Like usual, there is no way to guess what’s ahead. We can only interpret while looking behind; and the clarity of that interpretation varies.
The moments that are truly powerful, that form our identity, that define us wholly — perhaps they cannot or should not be photographed. They are too sacred. The soul of it would be robbed if we remembered in perfection. With such powerful realities, it is best to see them shrouded, to look through a glass darkly, to only see the back and not look directly at the face of them.
Does your mind do this to you? What random moments are etched forever in your memory? Would you like to share one? And are the powerful realities harder to capture? I’d love to hear about some of your memories — the random moments you can’t forget and the ones you wish were forever etched in your mind.