Dearest EXPLORE reader,
A few minutes ago I walked outside my office.
It’s a bright sunny day with very low humidity. I squinted my eyes as I walked outside and, I believe it was due to the low humidity, I was instantly transported back to my college days in Lubbock. I remember walking outside of classes and wincing against the sun, and the breeze, and the extremely dry air. But I’m not there anymore – I’m in Boerne and typically our air is pretty heavy and there is rarely a strong wind. But sure enough, everything that just felt so dry and sunny and I had this strong feeling of remembering what it was like to be 23 and walking around campus. Was a fun little walk down memory lane.
The other day I heard that Robert Earl Keen was retiring. To commemorate this, I turned on his “West Textures” CD, walked out on the porch and had a beer while listening to it. Listening to the trees in the breeze, having some crappy beer, and tapping my feet to “Gringo Honeymoon” was a delightful little vacation from normal life. Again, I was transported back to my late 20s as I remember doing this very activity with my wife of the time. We were young and broke and just sitting on the porch and talking endlessly while sipping cheap beers and listening to REK serenade us was one of the treats we indulged in. Life was simple. We were simple kids. LIFE had not kicked our butts around yet, and all we saw was potential. To be doing this in my mid-40s after life had undoubtedly kicked my ass a few times made me feel simultaneously old as hell but also more appreciative for those early days. Older and wiser I suppose.
As I sat down to draft up this column, I spent some time thinking about these little moments in my memories and the more I thought about them, the more I found. And they weren’t all of “good” times. These moments in time that are burned into my memory banks and remind me of times and situations that ultimately proved to be quite profound. Maybe my brain is unique, but I have found that I hold onto extraordinary details about moments and can conjure up the weight of those moments by remembering the details.
When my mom called me and told me my brother died. I was just outside Schulenburg, Texas on the road to get to him. I was strangely calm. I pulled into the next gas station, got out of my truck and just leaned against it for a minute. There was a father and daughter going into the gas station and she held his hand and was skipping, surely hoping to get a piece of candy. It was really muggy. The sky had those giant cotton ball clouds that are so pretty, and I just stood there for a solid 10 minutes taking it all in. I walked inside, bought a Gatorade or something, and the cashier was polite to me and I remember thinking “Thank you for being nice. You have no idea what the past 20 minutes has been like for me.”
I ate lunch by myself frequently in the past. I just enjoyed the solitude for those brief moments. I bought a Bumdoodler’s sandwich, got it to-go, and drove down to River Road and sat on the picnic table. I sat on top of the table, put my food beside me, and simply watched people walk by in the pretty weather. A younger married couple walked by, and she smiled at him and they held hands and I watched them for a long time. I snorted, shook my head, and in that moment I knew that my marriage was over. I can still remember what the wife was wearing and the way that he smiled distracted while she touched his chest. It hurt my heart to see love, and to know I didn’t have it.
I have a tumultuous relationship with my 15 year old son. Raising teens is hard all the time, and he is no different. We had a big fight on a Tuesday evening, and I was upset and he was upset and I told him “Dammit Aaron – I’m not disposable!! I love you and I wish you’d just show me the same love!” and I slammed his door and we didn’t talk for the rest of the evening. I was agitated and went for a walk and I’m sure he played video games and there was a cold silence in the house. In the morning I woke up to a hand-written note from him that said (basically): “That wiped me out that you think you’re disposable to me. How could you think that? I can’t do life without you and I’m sorry to make you think that. It made me so sad!” and a bunch of other stuff, but I barely made it through half of it before I was a blubbering mess. And my knees got weak, and I was wearing a grey long sleeved shirt and there was a dirty cup at the end of my desk. I sat down in my chair, spun it around to look out the windows and there was a big fat cardinal in the tree across the yard. I sat there and wiped tears out of my eyes and the magnitude of parenting was heavy on me and I was reminded of the weight of my responsibilities. I can see it like yesterday. THAT memory is one that sustains when he mouths off and wears me out. There’s beauty behind his eyes, and it just needs to be tamed a bit and for his spirit to quiet. It’ll happen, and it’s on me to simply survive.
Memories. They’re endless, right? These little snapshots of moments where our brains takes the stimuli around us and literally burns it into our memory banks and it’s preserved forever. Sometimes we brush against something that reminds us of these moments are we instantly brought back to those moments, with all of their glaring details, and we can re-live them. Even the ones we don’t want to re-live.
I think about memories a lot. I have no idea if I’m unique in the way that I remember things and the details my brain holds on to, but I don’t think I am. I bet that you can remember some seriously finite details about some key moments in your life, and I think those details are beautiful. They make us young again in some ways. I could be 92 years old, and step outside to some dry windy weather and be transported to being 23 years old in Lubbock. I think that’s beautiful. And crucial. After all, remembering the details means we were paying attention, and remembering our youth means we can remember youth. I hope I never forget what it feels like to be young. Even though I’m not young anymore.
Aren’t those really the things that make life………LIFE? The old Joe Pesci movie “With Honors” had a theme where our dying hero had a thing where when something profound in his life happened, he would reach down and grab a stone and put them in his pocket. They were his eternal reminder of the moment, and he could rub the stones and be transported back to this moment, whether for good or bad. I always liked that and actually used to carry a stone in my 20s for this reason. I had it for years and lost it some point and I was very upset as it meant I had lost the moment itself. I quickly realized that I could still remember all the details and emotions so I supposed I didn’t really the stone after all.
Because my brain was more powerful than the stone.
All this said, as my life continues to unfold and I create more and more memories, I find myself paying more and more attention to the details in my life. My 15-year-old is now eye level with me, and I was looking at the curve of his jaw this morning. The peach fuzz on his upper lip. The depth of his voice. The strength in his fingers. His goofy haircut. And I hope I don’t forget those details. And I hope that when I think of those details in 20 years, I can remember where I’m at emotionally today and my struggles and my dreams and my worries…and appreciate them later as much as I might appreciate them today.
And isn’t it all………HOPE?
Whatever it is that resonates in your brain and in your heart as you both make and recollect memories, in the end I believe that they are overwhelming grounded in some feeling of hope. From when I was in my early 20s, all the way to staring at my tall gangly teenager this morning…I hoped then for my life and I hope now for HIS. All I do is hope, really. I hoped for my successes and my happiness, and I hope for his safety and his goals. I hope for my future when I have to end a marriage, and I hope for easier days when I remember horrible moments of death and despair. It’s like we collect the stone of life and kiss it briefly, put it in our pocket, and hope that tomorrow we never forget what we felt today.
Because today is all we really have, right?
As I age and I mature and I am refined under the constant water of life, my edges smooth and wisdom is gained. Some wisdom I don’t want, but it’s all wisdom. I pray for your wisdom, and maybe more than anything, I pray for your ability to capture wisdom with your heart and your eyes, appreciate it for what it is, and to never ever forget the moments of our lives that matter.
Welcome to February. May you have a moment this month to pay attention to things around you, may you pay attention to the details and the beautiful details, and may you pay attention to the hope that it brings you. And may you pick up the stone, tip your hat to the cosmos, and continue your journey.