Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Memory DNA

Image courtesy of Svilen Milev, www.efffective.com
I remember the hat you mentioned. Your brother said it made me look old. I still have that hat, but, I don't need it to look old. 

Yesterday I received a letter back from my Uncle F. In my letter to him I had recalled a roller coaster I once rode with him and how he lost his hat when the ride went upside down.

Never mind that the ride was some 30 years ago -- it immediately comes to mind when I think of Uncle F.

Stories like these -- an amusement park mishap, my Great Aunt L using colorful language to make my brother behave at the Thanksgiving dinner table, the time I foolishly took on my Uncle C, a real estate agent, in a game of Monopoly -- make up our family DNA. Just as important -- maybe even more so -- as our real genetic strands, memory DNA helps define us, gives us an irrevocable sense of place no matter where we roam.

Of course, just as with the real stuff, not all memory DNA is perfect -- alongside the silly and the funny there is the serious and sad, the illnesses and deaths and divorces. Which, perhaps, makes the happy moments all the more important: not unlike the stronger parts of our genetic code, recollections of better times can reinforce and heal us amid painful struggle.

I also remember taking you and your brother for a short flight in the Taylorcraft. Your brother has told me that that ride gave him an interest in flying. I am enclosing a copy of my logbook entry for that flight.

I was so touched to see the logbook entry from 1979. That airplane flight, a roller coaster ride, years of Christmases and Easters and everything in between -- no one else has my exact combination of memories. More so than my flat feet or straight hair or blue eyes, my memories, thankfully, make me who I am.

Yesterday morning, before receiving the letter from Uncle F, I wrote to my Aunt C. She is someone with whom I associate not hats, but shoes -- stilettos, in fact.

... Your ability to walk gracefully in those shoes, in any situation -- I will never forget the time you came to see me in Georgetown at my hotel, and we walked to that restaurant across the icy bridge. You did it, skillfully! Might seem like a weird thing to mention or admire, but I'm telling you, as someone who isn't always as sure on her feet, I'm in awe.

Obviously her footwear isn't all I associate with Aunt C, with whom I spent many a holiday as a child and who, a decade later, gave me advice about quitting smoking (our chat didn't yield automatic results, but it certainly got me started on the path of giving up cigarettes for good). More memories, more DNA.

My Uncle F closed his letter to me by mentioning how I have a great husband (I do) and how my stepson and son are lucky to have been born into such a loving family (we're lucky to have them). One of my greatest hopes is that my husband and I can help the boys build their own "memory DNA" -- a lifetime of experiences uniquely their own.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I Ain't Seen Nothing Yet

"The best is yet to come."

My former coworker L, to whom I wrote yesterday, said those words to me practically the very first time I met him. Given L's generally wisecracking personality -- which also became obvious during our first meeting -- I figured he was just being sarcastic.

Turns out he wasn't. L, corporate counsel at the insurance company where we worked, truly believed that no matter how good things are, they can always get better.

What an incredibly optimistic worldview, and--as I told L in my letter--damn if he isn't right. I told him how, over the past several years, I've been blessed with a loving husband and beautiful stepson and son, along with the love of friends and good health, and the simple blessings of a roof over my head, well-compensated work and reliable transportation.

This all is most certainly joy and happiness and security enough, and yet--it does seem to get better and better. Playtime with my children reinforces the wonder and joy in simple things. Challenges at work sharpen my sense of perspective. Even the return of a close family member's illness poses an opportunity to increase my faith and my patience.

And through this letter-writing project -- I just wrote my 183rd letter, meaning I have now written more than I have left to write, in order to reach my goal -- I've reignited old relationships, found opportunities to expand the reach of my writing and been reminded of the wisdom of my friends.

The best is yet to come? I can hardly wait to see what's next.

BREATHTAKING: Writing this post I thought of Pink's "Glitter in the Air" and its concluding line: "Have you ever held your breath and asked yourself will it ever get better than tonight?" She might have been asking herself that question after her absolutely gorgeous and utterly unforgettable performance of the song at the 2010 Grammy Awards.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Finding the Right Words ...

to express my thanks can sometimes be more difficult than I expect.

I recently wrote to my friend M, who was there for me during my divorce from my first husband. I didn't open up completely to very many people back then -- maybe it was a lack of trust, maybe it was my shame -- but M knew everything. M listened as I dissected every detail of my decision, weighed every last bit of evidence, second-guessed every assumption.

And M always knew what I needed -- a hand to hold,  a voice of reason, a joke, a pep talk or a cheeseburger or a margarita.

So when I went to write to M, I thought it would be a snap. The words would just flow.

Or not. I sat for a long time. I struggled to find the perfect words, the phrases that would articulately and fully convey the gratitude I felt for everything M had done. I didn't want to waste this opportunity.

What do I say to someone who was there for me, didn't judge me, at one of the most, if not the most, devastating and profound times of my life? Besides thank you, of course ... Thank you for giving me a place to verbalize some of the most heretical thoughts and feelings I've ever had. You have no idea, M, how much it meant to be able to talk to someone without fear of criticism or betrayal -- I would have gone absolutely crazy without you. You saved my life, sister.

She did save my life. And, as I remarked to her, it was just happenstance that she and I ever became friends in the first place -- during a company restructuring I was transferred to M's department, and she and I struck up a conversation one day. The next thing I knew, the girl in the next cubicle over was a cherished friend looking out for me when I wasn't so capable of looking out for myself.

It's almost as if the universe saw me heading off into the woods, and knew I was going to need a compass to keep from getting completely lost. You were my compass -- totally not at all anticipated and totally clutch -- how do I repay you? I will tell you I really do try not to take anything for granted these days; you just never how the universe is actually working things out for you.