SLIPPING LIKE SAND THROUGH MY FINGERS


sand slipping through fingers“Time is like a handful of sand – the tighter you grasp it, the faster it runs through your fingers.”

I saw a photo today of people I knew in college.  I looked at the picture several times because, while the names looked familiar from the tags on Facebook, I could not place the faces.  In fact, I really couldn’t much place the names either but there was some ring of familiarity to them so I squinted and taxed my brain and tried to remember.  It was hard.  Granted, nearly 25 years has gone by – almost half of my life has happened since I graduated from college – but it disturbed me that I could not remember.  I was frustrated that I could not place them.  It feels like life is so fleeting and I could not help but wonder who, in 25 years, I would not be able to place.  Which people who play such a big part of my life today will drift into the obscure regions of my brain and will no longer conjure up clear, distinct memories?  Certainly, I hope no one but I know that is not true.  I know that life changes so rapidly and people come and go based on your life’s circumstances. People change jobs, they move, you drift apart.  It makes me want to hang on so tightly.  It makes me think that I need to commit even more effort to those meaningful relationships to ensure that they endure, that they survive the shifts that so naturally occur in our lives.

I know that change happens in between the milliseconds of time.  I desperately try to slow it down and attempt to capture each moment in order to witness the changes as they occur but it is something like trying to watch a movie and seeing each frame.  It is moving far too fast and our brains cannot keep up.  Regrettably, we can only identify change after it has occurred when we reflect on the difference – the noticeable aspects of someone or something that is not like it was.  Sometimes even after the fact it is imperceptible.  “What’s different about you?” you might ask a friend.  You know it is there but you cannot see it.  Change happens before our eyes but without our eyes being able to see it.

Part of my aching melancholy in life is that I am forever wanting to capture every moment and absorb every last drop of it so I can taste it, let it roll around on my tongue for a while and adhere some permanent memory to my brain.   I want to soak in all of the spectacular – and the not-so-spectacular – aspects of my life so I lose nothing.  Instead, I spend a great deal of time reflecting, trying to recapture, revisit and relish in all those moments.  I worry that, as distance grows, I will forget.  When I am away from home, I try to carry with me reminders of my children.  I want more than just photographs.  I like to store away very specific memories that can dance around in my head so I can visit with them in my mind when I cannot be with them in person.  I close my eyes each time I take off on a plane and play my mental reel, remembering the small moments, the specks of time that made me smile, that made my heart melt.  I ache when I return home and I am certain they have each grown just a little bit taller or their voices have sunken just a little bit deeper while I was away.  Those changes happen during my brief absences yet sometimes it feels like months or years have passed.  Something always shifts while I am gone and I can’t always figure out exactly what but I simply cannot put things back together in the same way from before I left.

In my coaching group, I recently asked my participants to write about a superpower they wish they had.  I thought a lot about this for myself because I never really admired superheroes for their special skills.  I never wanted to fly or have x-ray vision like SuperMan.  I never wanted to have special weapons or fighting skills like Wonder Woman.  What I always fantasized about was time travel.  I wanted to be able to go back and revisit experiences in my life to either relive them or intervene and make corrections.  I want the ability to go back to those amazing moments in time that I struggle to preserve in my mind and see them all over again.  I want to visit with those people from whom I have drifted and remember our special moments and try to recapture some of the magic of those experiences that time has clouded over, leaving behind distant and unfamiliar blurs.  I’d love the ability to make some different choices and perhaps change some situations but, most of all, I just want to visit my memories in full technicolor.

But, alas, absent those abilities, perhaps my journey includes learning to catalog all the wonderful moments of my life and preserve them in my own type of mental storage shed.  Perhaps my lesson is to learn how to extract all the critical vitamins and minerals from those memories in order to use them to nourish me during difficult moments.  Maybe I can learn to utilize all the memories to make sure that my past does not slip like sand through my fingers.  Rather than hanging on for dear life, my fingers slipping from the ledge, I can just let go and drift on into my future blanketed by my history ready to ease my fall.

This afternoon while driving around with my younger son, we had the windows opened, enjoying the first taste of spring.  As we drove down one particular winding road, my son declared ” Mommy, can you smell those smells?  It’s like fresh trees!  I love this street!”  His innocent little 9 year-old brain was enraptured with the early fragrances of the season and the bounty of the fresh air coming in through the windows.  Of course, we could smell the same scents as we drove up our own street but he was convinced this was a magical place that held these special smells.  “Close your eyes and try to remember the smell,” I told him.  “Try to take a picture in your mind so you will always remember this moment with these smells.  Then you will always remember this time when you smell these smells in the future.”  He only understood me a little bit but I knew that I was trying to pass on to him the guidance I give to myself.  I wanted him to be able to always place his memories and be able to observe his life through a lens other than his eyes.  I wanted him to be able to observe his life and all the changes that take place through the memories burnt into his brain.  I hope that when he is 45 and trying to remember the roads in the town he grew up in that he will close his eyes and remember our little spring drive today.

OCEAN VIEWS


IMG_3683“The sea is emotion incarnate. It loves, hates, and weeps. It defies all attempts to capture it with words and rejects all shackles. No matter what you say about it, there is always that which you can’t.” – Christopher Paolini

I just took a walk on the beach – a pretty uncommon occurrence for me in February. Fortunately, I have been swept away to Florida for work for the weekend and had the luxury of spending an hour to take a leisurely walk along the ocean, feeling the sand nestling between my toes and listening to the serene sounds of the smashing waves along the sea shelled shore. I often forget the effects the beach has on me. In fact, while I have known I was coming down here for a few months, I gave no thought to packing a bathing suit or even setting aside time to relax on the beach. I looked for excuses to not do anything relaxing and focus the time away on the work that I am here for and any other work I could sneak in with 2 uninterrupted days to myself. It’s odd when I think about it now – why wouldn’t I have focused on the beach, the pool, the spa or some other indulgences for myself? I am staying at the Ritz Carlton – there is an unending array of options for me to pamper myself and, yet, I focused solely on the amount of work I could accomplish while here. I really did not pack a bathing suit and I kept checking the weather hoping for rain.

Yet, once I got here, I could not escape the majesty of the ocean. From the balcony of my room, I immediately felt ensconced in the warmth of the sea air and calmed by the lull of the ocean tide. Peace and calm took over. As I walked along the ocean today, I marveled at how blissful I was and how my brain so easily shut itself down. Of course, being me, I pondered this and, for the first time in a really, really long time, I did not have much to think about except watching the seagulls and breathing in concert with the waves.

The beach has always been a significant part of my life. Perhaps it is because I am a cancer and, as a water sign, feel very connected to the ocean. Perhaps it is because some of my best memories of childhood took place at the beach. Perhaps it is because you simply cannot be stressed when you sit and watch the ocean and become mesmerized by the ebbs and flows of the tide. The calming that comes over you is difficult to be disrupted. When I was very young, my family spent lots of time in Montauk, NY because my father’s parents owned a home there. After coming over from Italy and settling in the Bronx where many Italian immigrants landed, my grandparents decided to truly move out to the country and settled in what was, at the time, a very undeveloped area – a simple fishing village – at the very tip of Long Island. Back in the 60’s when they retired out there, everyone built little cape cod houses on giant pieces of property that remained untouched. My grandparents carved out a piece of their land to develop a vegetable garden that rivaled some produce farms. They replicated the gardens they had grown up with in Sicily and, from their crops, produced some of the most aromatic, magnificent food I have ever tasted. You could not walk into my grandparents’ home without a pot of gravy on the stove or a fresh pizza in the oven. My little 5′ grandmother Annie could cook up a feast for dozens and managed to smack a few fannies with her wooden spoon as the children ran through her house.

In the days when my parents were still living their idyllic life, we would venture out to Montauk several times a year, especially in the summer, and experience some of the most tranquil moments of my lifetime. My grandfather, who always seemed like a little old Italian man (despite his great height and stature), would bounce me on his lap and play with all his grandchildren as we ran around their spacious front yard or ride our bikes along the gravelly, windy roads in their neighborhood. My grandmother would yell at us in Italian if we even dared to step foot near her garden. I was not a particularly adventurous or disobedient child but, sometimes, the curiosity simply took over and I would go down deep into the property to see what all the fuss was about. It was spectacular. In my lifetime I have never seen such elegant eggplants or bright, luscious tomatoes. There were peppers and cucumbers and cauliflower and broccoli. I never had any interest in the actual vegetables but I was fascinated by the magnitude of it all. I would peek my nose over the small fencing around the garden and, without fail, my grandmother chided me and I quickly dashed off to avoid her wrath.

I remember climbing the dunes only to find the breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean. After my little body made the climb up the steep sand hills, I would just exhale when I saw the waves breaking. I could not wait to run down and tempt my fate, praying not to get swept under. Needless to say, the tide often pulled me in and I emerged laughing and with a bathing suit filled with wet sand. My mother hated the water and, frankly, hated the idea of putting on a bathing suit even more, so she usually sat under an umbrella watching from a distance, smoking a cigarette or reading a book. She never played in the ocean with us but my father, if he was with us, usually came running in to rescue his kids. It was glorious. It is all still so perfectly vivid in my mind. They are precious moments – a short blink of time – that left such impenetrable marks on my soul. The memories represent bliss, serenity, calm, peace, happiness, joy. I pray that I never lose my memory because these are possessions that I cannot safely lock away in a vault to be pulled out and admired. They exist only in my mind. No photographs, no videos, no one left to talk about it with. They are mine and exist only in me. My grandparents’ house has long since been bulldozed – the property developed by the new inhabitants of Montauk. Now it is filled with wealthy weekenders who have moved past the Hampton’s and, while they love the charm of the upgraded fishing community, still want to have their creature comforts – their McMansions, their gourmet kitchens, their in ground pools.

The last time I went back to Montauk was around 1990. I was single and decided to take a weekend for myself. It was an unusual move for me at the ripe old age of 23. My life was all about my friends, my job, dating and having fun. But the quiet, introverted part of me desperately needed to be alone, to recapture the memories of my childhood, to ponder my reality. It was probably the beginning of my journey right there because it was painful and difficult to find peace on that trip. I was confronted with the realities of my life. The idyllic scene I had so masterfully captured and framed in my mind was now being disrupted by the truth of my life. It was infiltrated by divorce, abuse, death, misery, disconnection. The rays of sunlight that shined in my memories were masked by dark clouds and thunderous noise that did not at all resemble the calm and peaceful waves. Suddenly, I was confronting everything that went wrong. Going back to that joyful place made me sad. It brought me pain. I had a journal and I wrote and wrote and wrote. I poured my sadness onto pages as I sat by the water. I cried. I rode a bike around the village and visited all of my favorite haunts. I went back into White’s Drugstore where I had wandered as a child, buying bubbles, coloring books, postcards to send home to my friends. Everything looked similar but it was all different. I was all different. I was broken and I was first beginning to learn just how broken and was trying to find my way to a repair shop.

I have never been back and, remarkably, have never been there with my husband. I discovered a new happy place with my family – the Jersey Shore. I adopted my husband’s fond memories from his childhood and created new memories with my own family. Our children spent weeks during the summer on Long Beach Island. We take them to Asbury Park. We visited Jenkinson’s Aquarium and played the games on the boardwalk. And, the beach still brings me peace. I still feel the calm. I have managed to push past the sadness of that part of my life and illuminate with the soft glow of distance and understanding. It was just a sliver of my life – just a flicker, a gust of wind – but it also shaped me. It made me who I am today, even if in some small way. I had a glimpse into what life could be and it helped provide me with a simple sketch of what I might want my life to look like. It helped me understand that it is not all bad. Nothing ever is. There is always a silver lining. I am disappointed I don’t have more memories of that family, that house, that beach, that life. Yet, I am grateful it was real, even if just for a split second.

One day I will return to Montauk to try to recall the precious memories with this new mind, with a healed heart. But, for today, I walked on the beach in Florida and succumbed to the pure pleasure that the ocean brings. I was peaceful, I was happy, and I remembered.