Growing older, recent memories slip out of grasp more readily, but oddly enough, memories of the distant past emerge fully pixilated and in exquisite detail. I have three distinct picture perfect memories of me before the age of five.
In the first, I am standing near a rock wall outside of our first residence, the Chateau Hotel. My mother is holding my hand and our eyes widen in unison as a dog, unleashed and poorly mannered, refuses a proper introduction before the scaling the wall and lunging with canines bared, right at us. My mother scoops me up in her arms and yells in her mother-will-keep-you-safe-voice one singular syllable, STOP. With her one hand in the air stop sign, she moves quickly indoors leaving the bewildered dog cemented in place. It takes me many years to overcome my fear of dogs, until the day I raise my own hand with equal confidence and say forcefully...STOP.
The second remembrance is a feeling more than an actual picture. My small hand is wrapped around the handle of the icebox in the kitchenette of our one bedroom apartment. The electricity is flowing up from my fingers to my wrist and into my body. I cannot move my hand. I cannot move my feet. I cannot hear voices. I cannot scream or yell. One by one I feel my fingers being uncurled from the metal handle. A short. There was a short in the electrical cord and I unwittingly helped to complete the circuit. It was my mother, once again, throwing the circuit breaker. Pulling the plug. I did not know until much later in life, the significance of that particular event. Not only was this a circuit breaker, it was a deal breaker as well. The last straw. The motivation that drove my family to move. Away. To start over. And most definitely, to buy a new refrigerator.
The third moment of perfect recall is that of the night we moved. I am sliding into the backseat of a waiting cab. In my lap, I hold a milk carton full of water. And fish. Pet fish. The water sloshes onto the front of my shirt, but I cradle the milk carton tenderly. I look down into the water and my fish, with their big innocent eyes, look up at me trustingly, knowing they are safe in my care.
The Age of Innocence.
How do we get there from here?
Sometime ago, I spent considerable time studying Buddhist psychology. It was time well spent as it led me to investigate the art of meditation. The ability to sit alone with one's thoughts. To separate from feelings and emotion. To acknowledge joy, pain and suffering as pieces of self that could be detached and piled up to be sorted out later. An important learning exercise in self awareness. A test of one's ability to access inner calm and to quietly focus.
I flunked the test.
I got itchy and uncomfortable after about three minutes.
With all those thoughts and feelings and emotions piled up at my feet, my inner child surrendered to my fastidious outer self. I did not need quiet. I needed a vacuum cleaner. A Dust Buster. A can of Pledge. A Bottle of Mr. Clean and a sponge.
Mindfulness. Mindful attention.
The writer, Anne Lamott, once wrote, "My mind is like a bad neighborhood. I try not to go there alone. "
We, Anne and I, must live in the same neighborhood. Or perhaps we lived next door to each other in a previous life. I know one thing for sure, we would have been fast friends.
Okay...I said to my inner-storytelling-fantasy-laden-scary story-hard-to separate-fact-from-fiction-self...let's try this again.
What if I just went back in time and picked one story. One sweet innocent and truly true story. One precious moment in time.
What if I closed my eyes and saw my youngest and most innocent self. A photograph of my own very young face smiling back at me.
What if I stored that image.
In a safe.
In a safe place.
In my heart.
Where, with just the simple act of placing my hand over my heart, I could go back and make a promise to visit once in awhile.
That I could do.
That, I did do.
You can too.
Take a moment. Close your eyes. Open the album.
And in the words of George Lucas, "long ago in a galaxy far far away"...there you are.