I ran into an old friend last week. We haven’t been in touch in years. And although we were definitely in the same place at the same time doing pretty much the same things all those years ago, it’s amazing how our recollections of the same events differ. Our memories are weighted by relativity and perhaps coloured by the lives we’ve lived in the intervening years. What each of us chooses to file in our memory bank is subjective. Just as witness statements given by those present at the same event seldom match perfectly, recollections of times past also differ. History is constantly being rewritten and reinterpreted through a prism of individual hopes, dreams, and aspirations.
It’s not an age thing: I’ve always had trouble remembering events involving people. When de wimmen came to visit me in Alaska, they met my Alaskan friends who eagerly recounted some of the stories I’d told them, asking whether or not they were true. De wimmen contradicted me on details – and with regard to one particular event (that I can’t remember) told me point blank that I hadn’t even been there!
Now if you were to refer to GATT as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade on page 2 and again on page 2222 as the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, I’d spot that. Or if you told me once that you were 16 when you left school and later upped it to 17, I could call you on it. Or if the chronology of some story contradicted known facts, I’d be asking questions. But when it comes to life events, I have a difficult time distinguishing truth from fiction. Perhaps it’s a self-preservation mechanism . Perhaps it’s laziness. Perhaps it doesn’t matter at all. I’ve learned not to blush in embarrassment and just to fess up to the fact that I simply don’t remember. It’s safer than pretending I do. And while I might not be able to share in a collective memory, there’s enough remnants floating in my netherworld to allow me appreciate reliving it. I get to enjoy the experience all over again.
I didn’t don my inquisitor’s hat and ask the usual list of 20 questions, fired in rapid succession and guaranteed to ensure that it would be another eon before we met again. It was as if it had been months, not years; the conversation didn’t require explicit questions as answers came without them being asked. What has taken me aback though, is not the ease with which old friendships can be resumed, but rather that in the intervening years this old friend has been living my life, or rather the life that I’ve been imagining for me.
I’ve mentioned many times that I want to live by the sea. I want to smell sea air and go to sleep each night with the sound of waves pounding against the shore. I want to wake up to the sound of seagulls and be able to walk deserted beaches in wintry weather. I want to experience that sense of fragility afforded by calm waters and the fierceness offered by angry seas.
I have written, too, about my lifelong dream of owning a racehorse or three. I want to feel that sense of accomplishment that only comes when you see someone (in this case, the horse) grow into their own and achieve great things, even if for them, that great thing is finishing fourth. I want to have a vested interest in their progress and feel that sense of pride when they cross the winning line. And I want to enjoy the excitement of being part of it all.
Remember that opening scene from the movie the Commitments? Where Jimmy Rabbitte is in the bath pretending he’s being interviewed by Terry Wogan? Well, I’ve had similar (albeit non-bathtub) experiences when I imagine myself being interviewed about my latest bestseller. But for that to happen, I’d have to start writing it. Such is life.
Lest you think otherwise, I’m not sitting here overwhelmed by envy or riddled with jealousy that they’ve gotten to do/are doing the top three things on my bucket list. On the contrary. At the end of what has been an interesting week on many fronts, I’m grateful for the regular reminders I receive that life is there for living. It is short, fragile, and all too often wasted on what ifs. I’m especially grateful for the wake-up call reflected in this chance encounter and silently wonder about Nos 4, 5, and 6 on my list.
Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out the post Grateful 52