Every other summer my extended family goes on a backpacking trip, a trip that will encompass a whole gamut of emotions and experiences: awe at the majesty of the mountains, annoyance at the hiker who doesn’t carry his weight, sheer joy at being with those nearest and dearest to us, disgust from the smells of sweaty feet and unwashed clothes, peace born of unplugging from the world, frustration with the inevitable knee-back-hip-foot pain, giddiness from laughter at stories shared around the fire. The ups and downs of the experience are as varied as the trails marked on our topographic maps.
And yet, the memories of the experiences always glow for me. The annoyance, disgust and frustration disappear along with the blisters, and I’m left with a solid case of rosy retrospection. I find this to be true in most areas of my life. Excepting one particular internship, my first fight with Caleb, the job search during my final spring term of divinity school, and a few other select periods, I look back on experiences both big and small with a sense of great content.
Why is that?
I imagine it like this: our minds have a way of distilling an entire experience into a bite sized portion, and a single memory is like a little glass vial meant to hold the distilled experience. The vial can only hold so much, and so our memory of an event depends on how we choose to fill the vial. “Choose” may not even be the right word, because perhaps how we memory-keep is unconscious. Through a mixture of biology and family and circumstance and personality, we’re each inclined to hold on to different aspects of an experience, so that two people may share a history, but have vastly different recollections of their shared past. We each pick up different pieces to be preserved forever in the little vial devoted to a particular experience.
When surveying my storehouse of vials — rows and rows of tiny jars labeled “Christmas 2002,” “9th birthday,” “sophomore year,” “half-dome hike” — I can see that they are, with rare exception, full of glitter. For better or for worse, I remember fondly, and so I enjoy wandering through the recesses of my mind, reflecting on the past and recalling previous moments.
It’s helpful for me to consciously acknowledge that I have a tendency towards rosy retrospection, because it equips me to deal with the drudgery of the everyday. Take this very moment as an example: I’m chilly, and somewhat dreading the presentation I have to give at work later, and I’m really missing my dear friend Angela. But. The Christmas tree glowing in the corner is magical, and the coffee I’m sipping is sublime. The candle burning smells delicious, and I’m about to meet a friend for tea. Hearing her life updates will be a delight, and simply being in her presence will sooth me. The glowing, sipping, smelling and delighting are the glitter that will later fill my vial, and, these aspects of my life are glitter in the moment, too. It’ harder to notice them when they are mixed in with the dust — the fear, grief, insecurity, frustration and boredom that are a part of any human life — but the sparkle is there.