It’s funny how the mind can skip from one random event to another and draw connections. Our minds evolved to see patterns and connections because it helped us survive. So, it isn’t really all that surprising that your mind can go tripping through memories if you let it.
The other day I accidentally hit a bird with the car. I know. I was very sad about this, especially when I noted its bird buddies’ concern. I didn’t kill it, but it definitely was injured. I was already merging into traffic and couldn’t really stop. Normally birds are excellent flyers and get out of the way, and I usually slow down a bit to give them plenty of time. That day I was in a bit of a hurry and didn’t. 😦
For whatever reason, this reminded me of the time my sister came home all worked up about hitting a racoon. I believe there was more to the story, but I don’t recall it. That memory blip jumped to a time where I was carting one of Justin’s friends home. As we crossed a little bridge over a drainage canal I braked for an animal that was in the road. It was a HUGE rat. I may possibly have shrieked a little.
As my brain pulled up that incident, my eighteen year old self felt not so different from my nearly thirty-six year old self. I’ve lived nearly as much additional life now as I had up to that point, and yet while I’ve grown in many ways, I’m still very much the same girl who braked for a rat. My brother’s presence in the back seat and the kid in the front felt very close to the teens I cart around now and my own son. Mr. Smarty-Pants does not physically favor his uncle, but he got a heaping helping of his personality. Sure, he is very much his own person, but the similarities at times are striking. Justin teased me for braking for a rat, just as Mr. Smarty-Pants once urged me to gun for a turkey that ran across the road so we could eat it (I didn’t). It really isn’t a surprise that my brain can draw connections between events related only by an animal in the road and a vehicle barreling toward it.
My relationship with my little brother was a combination of camaraderie and motherliness, as being the eldest I felt it my job to watch out for my younger siblings. My relationship with my son bears the same combination of feelings, albeit in different proportions, and so of course, is prone to sparking that random memory connection. When speaking to family members, it is not uncommon for me to have to correct names, as the wrong one slips out. That rarely happens when I’m talking directly to my children, but add in the connection to my sister or my parents, or my grandparents, and my brain trips over a lifetime networked memories.
They say that the more connections one makes with regards to a memory, the less likely one is to forget it. We used to joke that my mother remembered everything. I don’t proclaim to recall everything, but people have remarked that I do have very good recall. I can tell you the plot of the first really long chapter book I read at maybe 10 years old. I can remember playing hide-and-seek with my mom and being eye-level with her dog. I recall visiting my brother in the ICU (although I buried that one for awhile), and seeing my sister on the fuzzy ultrasound screen. I remember pulling up the carpet in the apartment at age four to watch the little ants underneath scurry about their little ant lives. I remember dissecting a washed and dried ball of paper when I was maybe 3 or 4 and wondering if there was something in it. Fast forward and I’m sitting at the dining room table at age 6 or 7 in the summer and my brother is telling some silly joke about trains. It was the kind of joke that only made sense to a kid and I’ve long forgotten the details, but that moment of pure happiness, with everyone laughing until their sides ached, that moment remains crystal clear. I can rattle off plenty more, some happy, some sad, some a mix, but the point is that they are primarily ordinary days doing nothing in particular.
All of that reminds me to cherish the little random moments in life. People make a big deal about the big key moments, life events, but in truth when your brain goes skipping down memory lane it’s snapshots of every day life that paint the portrait of your past. Years from now when my grandchildren are my children’s age now, more connections will be made and it won’t be the “big days” so much as the little things, like telling Ms. Drama that the window is not a door, or cuddling with Miss Diva while watching a TV show, or shrieking when Mr. Smarty-Pants sneaks up behind me and picks me up—his uncle did that too.
Just this past weekend I shared with Miss Diva the bit of wisdom that happiness comes from within you. It comes from living in the moment and seeing the beauty even in the midst of less than ideal circumstances. Happiness isn’t a destination or a reward, but a state of mind, a contentment that comes from love.