Last night I fell asleep trying to piece together the fragments of a memory. It was a summer evening at an outdoor concert hall of some sort. I remember my father was performing on the stage, although I can’t remember what or why. My mother sat on a blanket by a tree keeping one eye on him and the other on me and my siblings as we played barefoot on the green lawn. We turned open-armed circles in the grass until we tumbled over, resetting ourselves and spinning like wobbly tops over and over again. As the day smoothly shifted to night in one of those transitions that envelopes everyone it touches in the magic of twilight, I returned dizzy and grass-stained to my mother’s side.
As I describe the memory it seems almost vivid, although in truth most of the details are gone. The feelings are real but, like a dream you struggle to memorize as it dissolves in the light of the morning sun, the pictures have turned into blurry shapes and forms I can no longer make out. This is one of those memories I’d choose to live in forever if I could because it represents a time that was right, innocent, safe, and complete. I just wish I knew it was real. Our brains have a habit of filling in the blanks when our memories fail, and I know my mind takes romanticized license where recollections of my childhood are concerned.
I am someone who struggles to reconcile the past with the present, even though I know little good can come from constantly looking in the rearview mirror. Walking against the earth’s rotation won’t stop time from moving forward and by focusing solely on my yesterdays, I’ll always be distracted by what’s being left behind.
My rational brain tells me that in order to find balance and happiness I must also be aware of what’s around me and in front of me. I will never be content if I’m constantly yearning for something that’s gone. I know I have to accept my losses and the ways in which life must change, but my emotional brain says, “…that sucks.”
Recently, my entire immediate family found themselves under the same roof, which probably happens about twice a decade. As I looked around the dining table at my father and siblings I realized we felt small, fractured and not entirely whole. With food on the table, good health and 20 plus beautiful grandchildren underfoot, how could I possibly focus on what’s wrong as opposed to what’s right? Am I defective because I struggle to appreciate a song, no matter how beautiful it is, simply because one voice is missing?
I don’t know.
When you feel like someone irreplaceable is gone, it’s really hard not to look back and lament what life was before. It’s hard to accept that certain moments, feelings, people and realities from the past will always feel dreamlike and just out of reach. Sometimes you may wonder if these moments were ever even real.
It’s sad that these days are gone, and no one can tell you this isn’t a sadness worth being felt….because it absolutely is. But as I sit here I alternate between the vision of someone grieving the past and losing themselves bit by bit, and the vision of someone growing more and more complete as they use both the pieces of the past and the present to construct a new sense of self, family, and purpose. Although these two ‘selves’ seem a direct contradiction of one another, I realize we have the capacity to be both at the same time and that it’s normal to mourn the past while still being appreciative of the present and the future.
We’re all doing okay.
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