Summer is upon us. I look out the window at mid-day while working from home and it just looks hot. The lilies are blooming now at the “little house” and the cattle across the road huddle in the shade of the bordering trees. Yesterday the neighbor’s chickens were in the driveway again, making themselves at home. It’s idyllic here and I love this spot on the earth.
This week I thought a lot about memories — and how they can be so wonderful and at the same time so painful. For some reason the summer, or maybe it’s the change of seasons, does it to me. I remember those white, cotton curtains at the parsonage where I grew up in Oak Ridge, New Jersey. They used to blow in the summer breeze. I remember my father’s whistle on the stairs. And now, years later, I dream of cadets in grey marching on a steamy, hot, grassy Plain at the Military Academy. I’m back at West Point. It is the start of the new academic year. I’m late for formation and I can’t find my uniform. It’s the same every time and I wake up with a start. Nothing is as vivid as those memories.
It’s also funny how memories stay with me now. Maybe it’s just a part of getting older, but the memories pop up and hold me fast. It was this time of year that I threw my hat up in 1991 as I graduated West Point. I remember sewing a homemade bikini out of plaid material that summer to swim in the lake at our family cottage. Then there was jumping out of a perfectly good airplane in July of 1991 only to break the living crap out of my leg on Army jump #4. And I remember a young man singing Hank Williams Jr. to me in his Ford pickup truck as we drove through Nashville. (I don’t know if there’s really anything like young love).
I close my eyes and it all comes back.
So now what?
What do we do with all this emotion? Those wonderful memories balanced by tremendous regret. It is one thing when we enjoy a memory and it makes us smile. But what about when it haunts us?
Fast forward to coffee on Saturday morning with my super fun and very wise sister at the Oxford Baking Company in Oxford, CT.
“I think of Dad,” I said to her, “and how much I miss him. But I know what he’d say. He’d say, ‘Oh, for the love of Pete, you’re still thinking about this? Stop missing me and go live. Go enjoy!’”
“I sometimes keep a memory at arm’s length,” she said, and stuck out her hand like a stop sign, “There’s nothing I can do to change what happened. And to ruminate on it serves no purpose. So I don’t let it in.”
Maybe Beth’s method is best.
I remember being a pain in the neck to my father one night in the year before he died. When I think of it I am filled with regret. But I know he forgives me. I was young and stupid. To dwell on that moment serves no purpose. He would want me to move on and forget it.
On the other hand, the bittersweet memory of the song in Nashville? That I’ll hold onto and keep in my heart.
The clock struck 10 AM, and we left the coffee house. Beth got into her car and I got into mine. She put her glasses on to drive, just like she always does, and I stood there and thought of how blessed I am to have her in my life.
I thought, “I’ll remember this day, this wonderful 3-hour coffee with no interruptions and no devices, where we chatted about her kids, their college decisions, my new job, serious stuff and utter nonsense.”
This is the kind of moment in time that is worth the mental space and energy to file it away for a rainy day. To cherish it.
A great memory.