My oldest is getting married. Yes, that outs me as old enough to have become a mother the year I graduated from college.
This itself seems strange, because I feel pretty much the same as I did at 14, back when I used to sneak out of the house wearing a halter top. It’s such a distinct feeling that when I walk past my reflection in a store window I don’t instantly recognize the person hustling along, the woman carrying my purse and wearing my jacket. I have to remind myself, that’s me. That skinny insecure 14 year old self is history.
Why can I access that time in my life so easily? Because I really remember being 14. Everything was new. Testing out the forbidden, suffering daily angst, uncovering adult hypocrisy, lying on my bedroom floor memorizing music lyrics. And vivid memory is the key to time travel.
In essence, our lives are made from what we notice and remember. When you look back at any particular phase of your life what you recall is constructed from what captured your attention, particularly those times when your emotions as well as your senses were engaged.
It’s a nasty surprise to realize how few truly full memories we manage to form. That’s because we only efficiently latch on to memories when we pay attention. We’re more likely to do so when the experience is new. That’s probably why we seek out emotionally charged thrills (roller coasters or white water rafting), get so much out of travel, and remember firsts like our first kiss or first attempt driving a stick shift.
The emotional and sensory experience of one’s first baby makes for lasting memories. Ordinary moments remain imprinted on my body as well as my mind: a newborn slumped against me in sleep, a toddler crouching on sturdy legs to watch a beetle, an inquisitive child taking everything apart. As I watch this tall and capable young man go through the many rituals surrounding his upcoming wedding, I feel as if I exist in multifaceted time, sensing the layers of his childhood simultaneously.
I know it’s easy to miss the simple grandeur all around us. I do it all the time. I get distracted, I multitask, I’m too busy to make eye contact and when I do I might very well be thinking of something else. But we have to live in the fullness of our lives right now. That means engaging in the sights, sounds, tastes, thoughts, and feelings unique to our own experience.
This moment, this day is yours to remember. Pay attention in such a way that you can time travel back to visit it.
And if you’d care to, describe the sights, sounds, and feelings of a memory that lets you travel in time.