I was watching a squirrel out the living room window earlier today, hunched over on a branch of the sugar maple in our side yard. His paws were folded over on his chest, as every ounce of his increasing girth screamed cold. The squirrel’s body language mimics my own, as this cold, damp and gray November day has been the kind that saps my motivation and reflects my focus inward. It is a day that lacks color and vigor, as if life knows that winter is coming and has resigned to the prospect.
There is something hidden in these days where the fruitlessness of effort seems obvious, when your to-do list knows it can wait another day. I use these days to reflect and recharge, affirm my bearing or chart a change in course.
Today, what has returned to my consciousness repeatedly is memory — not the ability to remember facts and figures, but those things from our past that our minds retain and define who we are. A friend recently expressed her gratitude for the difficult times in her life, for they made her who she is today. It is her memory of those times that defines her. Another friend talked of the memory of the smells, tastes, sounds and sights of her childhood and how they affirm her history.
I began to question what I hold as memories of the people, places and experiences that make up my past. Just as a single instance of negative feedback can mar a string of positive encouragement, I wondered if the painful moments of my past have hidden moments of fulfillment.
My friend asked me what sounds reminded me of childhood. The first thing that came to mind was the loon call my grandfather would make by cupping his hands together. The memory brought me right back to the wonderful summers we enjoyed at my grandparents’ house and the Sundays after church when their house would be filled with the aroma of bacon and eggs.
So many of these memories I had locked in a secluded cove of my mind, hidden there by more recent, more painful experiences. As an adult, the dominant memory of my grandfather is the letter he sent to all my relatives encouraging them to boycott my wedding, for the sole reason that it was not being held in the Catholic Church. He chose to not even meet the wonderful woman I would marry, instead letting dogma and faith determine his actions. In a single stroke, he severed two relationships — his with me, and my relationship (albiet tenuous) with the church. I wanted absolutely nothing to do with him or source of his dogma.
I don’t bring up this episode to open old wounds, but instead to bury them and resurrect the memories that bring warmth and a smile to my heart. I’ve let the memory of his betrayal of me define him and me for too long. I’ve worn the damage as a badge for nearly seventeen years, and it’s something that I will never forget, nor forgive. But it’s time to bring some balance to my memory, and allow myself to accept this man that betrayed his grandson also gave his grandson a sense of responsibility, toughness and perseverance that he carries with him today.
Today, on this reflective late autumn day, I’m choosing the right moments to remember.