Some days are heavy with golden possibility, and summer sweetness -- laden with indelible memories even before we wake up. While often we expect these days to be those marked on our calendars months ahead, more often the most impressionable moments are those that surprise us with their simplicity, connect us to our most human center and allow us to be still in that precious spot.
Because the ebb and flow of memories being stored and being forgotten is subconscious, we often take the complex filing system for granted. It is hard to examine closely or honor that which is so automatic in our daily lives and so our memory functions something like a child walking along the beach. She may pick up a hundred rocks and shells along the expanse of the beach, but we never know which ones will be discarded into the surf and which held tight in a sandy hand, brought home, set on a bedside table for years to come.
Upon reflection I have found it is harder to remember the big events: the wedding, the funeral, the birthday, the big trip, than it is to recall with vivid detail those unexpected memories: Chris and are sitting in a small room in our first apartment. We are listening to the same cassette tape song ("Runaway Train" by Soul Asylum) again and again to try to discern the lyrics for a high school English class activity the next day. Play. Stop. Rewind. Play. My foot is touching his calf. It’s a hot Saturday in May. We rewind, talk out the line, "is it fire flower or firefly without any light?" And press play again. There is nothing beyond the small room, the song, the heat. It is everything and nothing.
We have nowhere else to be.
In our quests to live big exciting lives, sometimes we forget that simple pleasures truly are the secret to being present in the sweetness of a moment.
I was reminded of this twice last summer, by two women who came to the farm with their daughters.
The first sat in a rocking chair by the fence. It was a quiet day at the farm, so I stopped whatever I was doing to bring a newborn kid over, set the baby in the woman’s lap, then sat down next to them. Mostly I was eager for a bit of a break from carrying water, mowing, whatever the busy tasks of that day were. Immediately it became clear that the mother had alzheimer's. The daughter who knelt at her knee gently guided her mother through the experience.
“Is that a nice goat?" she asked the women.
“Yes" the woman said stroking the goat’s small back with her thumb. Often the woman’s answers did not match the daughters questions, but were instead an enthusiastic jumble of phrases which mimicked the rise and fall of a sentence without the coherance of an idea. It was both fascinating and painful to listen to. I admired the daughter’s bravery. She was outwardly serene and infinitely patient.
“This goat’s name is Benjamin," I told the woman. The daughter gasped looking at her mother’s face for a light of recognition. There was none, but there was an easy companionship, a quietness that was almost palpable forming between the goat and the older woman. The goat had relaxed against her body, and the woman who had been a bit jumpy as she settled in, was now quiet in the sunlight, her fingers quiet on the goat.
“That was my dad’s name, her husband’s name,” the daughter said tears welling up in her eyes. I too cried for the loss, the light, the beautiful synchronicity of the the moment and none of us spoke for a good long time.
“The only place I need to be right now is here,” the older woman then said. The daughter had clearly heard this phrase before, maybe she had practiced it with her mom in times of irritability or worry over fading memories. Maybe a nurse had delivered the mantra repeatedly, but to me it felt like a benediction.
The only place we need to be is right here.
No past. No worry about the present being something fabulous. No future.
The only place we need to be is right here.
A few weeks later, a second daughter brought her mother to the farm. It was a busy day, but she sat in the same white rocking chair beside the goat pen in the sun. Chris placed a goat in her hands. The woman was beautiful, white hair and elegant bearing easily recalled the woman she was in her twenties. The daughter was radiant in her good energy and love for her mother. People came and went. The farm was a blur of activity and I can’t remember when the pair finally got up and left, but was sorry to see the chair empty, somehow knew that the energy that had settled there had been something special.
Months later the daughter came to a felting class at the farm and told me that early after her mother’s diagnosis with alzheimer's she had lost the ability to speak. Only very seldom did she utter words. She explained her delight when that afternoon as they were walking down the long farm driveway, her mother, suddenly noticing empty hands had said clearly and out of the blue, “Where’s my goat?”
I had no words in response, but was so quietly touched but the gift of her story.
How often do we take for granted these simple connections, or fail to really listen to those voices we treasure in the rush for more? How interesting to me that it took two women, losing their memories to remind me to treasure my own and to trust that it is often when we are doing less, that we are connecting more.