I turn 50 years old this week. Before long I’ll be 60 (I hope) because the years are short. I know the years will be short because the first 50 flew by while I was looking. Yes, I was looking – and still they flew. I can’t imagine how urgent being middle-aged must feel for those who weren’t looking.
I wasn’t quite eight years old the first time I realized for myself (and all by myself) that time had passed. It was the summer before third grade. It occurred to me I had been in two grades already as well as kindergarten and preschool, and there was some hazy recollection of the day my mother came home from the hospital with my youngest brother when I was three years old.
I had ridden my bike from the back of the house to the front and then stopped suddenly. I stared out over the front yard, then over the neighbors’ yards and down the street, and then a bit further where I was not allowed to go. My memories have since become panoramic.
What little life I had lived flashed before my eyes. I thought I might have been going mad because it was the first time I was aware of having a physical and a mental sensation at the same time. I would later learn the brain creates new pathways with each new experience. I had felt the road makers at work.
I made myself take it all in on as conscious a level as I could and I said out loud to myself, “Remember.” A few days later I related this to my grandmother over oatmeal cookies and orange juice. She told me it was a profound thing for a child to do, but I was just hoping to secure at least one memory I could look fondly upon before succumbing to what I thought might be the loss of my mind.
Many of the key, poignant, pivotal moments in our lives are solo experiences because only we know what we were thinking when we blew the bubbles, squished the ant, and stacked the rocks to see how high many we could pile up before they fell. Only we know what we imagine when we’re stuck in traffic or what we wish for when we look up at the stars. Even though these moments are milestones in their own right, they go completely unnoticed by others and they are not celebrated or marked in any way. The realization that one exists is of one of them.
In the yard that day, sitting on my bike, taking it all in, I had stumbled upon a life truth: I am.
From then on I made it a habit of standing still, taking it all in, and recording the memory for posterity. As a child I described this to myself as putting the memory on top of my brain rather than on the bottom where I was sure all things were that I’d forgotten – like my multiplication tables and the names of cousins I rarely saw.
Because of this I have some rather odd recollections; odd in the sense of nothing particularly significant happening, and rarely were other people present – until I had children. I have a very distinct memory of each of my kids when they were just babies, and several through their lives.
I also have one of my little sister when she was five years old. I was fifteen. She’d just done the fast walk off the swing of a local playground. I had been pushing her from the front by the bottoms of her feet, which she happily presented to me because I pretended to be knocked about by her upswing. I learned to do this by watching a mom who told another mom she liked to see her kids’ smiles while they swung back and forth and she could tell by any change in expression if the child was about to lose their grip or balance.
As my sister came off the swing toward me, I caught her face in my hands. She looked so deeply into my eyes I thought maybe she knew something I didn’t. She didn’t. She was just being a goofball. But while I had her attention I said out loud to her, “Remember.” I don’t want to alter my memory by asking her if she remembers. It’s enough that I do – and I know she does, even if it’s only on the bottom of her brain.