What is your very first memory? Does it mean anything to you? If so, what? Have you gleaned any basic life lessons from it or was it just an occurrence, a memory to simply mark the beginning of your memories?
I can take myself back to when I was 4 years old. I was on a camping trip with my dad and mom and our two dogs – a sweet, loving mutt and a yippy little American Eskimo that did not get along with me. (Think of a Pomeranian, but a bit bigger, more possessive, and more temperamental). Truthfully, I didn’t get along with it, either. I would want to play and she didn’t like getting her tail pulled, so, we were at odds since a year after my birth.
This remote campground in southwestern Pennsylvania presented beautiful green grass, a bright blue sky, a miniature lake, and a daily afternoon thunderstorm in the summertime due to the mountains surrounding it. A picturesque scene for relaxation. Mind you, this was in 1993 – before much of the technology we have available to us today could distract us from enjoying the full outdoor experience.
We’d gone for a weekend getaway and spent most of the time hanging out by the little popup camper dad and mom purchased back in ’89. As I grew into my awareness as a child, I remember always being amazed that the flat box that sat in the driveway would expand to fit us all inside.
We sat down to eat dinner one evening at the picnic table. Life seemed pretty good then – they made dinner together and I remember sitting down in front of a plate of a chopped up hotdog and a side of baked beans. I was hungry. I was excited. In fact, I was so excited that I had forgotten that the picnic table did not have a back to it. I leaned back and fell. When I fell, the back of my head cracked against the metal steps that led into the camper.
I can’t imagine what that scene was like for my parents. I was their first and only child, and I’m pretty sure this was my first major injury of sorts. But I can tell you that from my perspective, it sucked. It hurt! I remember wailing in pain, the hot feeling of the back of my skull, and then holding a washcloth to it as dad took me to the hospital. I still remember crying in the back seat on the way.
I’ve been okay, at least I think so – haha. I got a handful of staples, healed, and moved on with life as a 4-year old does.
Moral of the story? Pork and beans are evil. No, haha. In my learnings of how our minds and memories and creative abilities work, I’ve come to understand that events that have the most emotion attached to them are the ones that really stick. These can be the ones that are really, really painful, such as mine, or really, really blissful, such as the birth of a child, a major accomplishment you’ve achieved, or those special unforgettable moments in your intimate relationship. The pain or pleasure can be mental, emotional, physical, and any combination of two or all three of these. The more elements involved, the stronger the memory.
I’m convinced that is why I remember this memory as my first in my life.
What I really like about this concept is that we can use this in the present and creative future of our lives, too. If you want something new to stick, especially good things that take you towards the life you really want to live, then associate as much emotion with it as possible. Make the experience of creating what you want the best adventure this life has to offer. Enjoy it. Take joy within it. Don’t make it a struggle, a bore, or a chore. Make it exciting!
Secondly, isn’t it interesting to ponder the resiliency of kids? As my 4-year old self surely sat at another picnic table not long after, I doubt she had recurring nightmares of falling backwards again. No, I learned that you don’t lean back at a picnic table. Problem solved. Solution learned and applied. Moving on the the next thing – playing! There is no time for fretting when there is so much playing to be done and so much fun to be had!
Couldn’t we remember this thought process as adults? Surely, a level of adulting is necessary – responsibility, pay the bills, have an income, take care of family, take care of self, and the list goes on. But can we keep a childlike resiliency to bounce back up and continue playing when something doesn’t go as we were anticipating or something completely blindsides us? Surely, there is a time and a season for grief, and then a season that follows it – rebuilding, refinding joy, moving on. Finding meaning is not guaranteed in the equation. I believe we can make it mean whatever we want it to.
For example – have you ever told yourself the following words: “Oh, these things always happen to me,” or, “Well, Murphy’s Law has said it was going to happen,” or, “Why me?”
What would happen if you switched those statements around to something like the following: “So many good things happen to me, life absolutely supports me and I have so many blessings. This will turn out for good,” and, “I don’t subscribe to Murphy’s Law – things aren’t always going awry, in fact, most of the time they go very well! It’s a matter of what I focus on ..” and “How can I navigate this well?” (Note that I am completely drawing away from the “Why me” question. In all of my testing and experiments, I’ve never found that one to be a productive one as it is usually not said in a spirit of curiosity, wonder, and seeking of understanding, but rather in a state of exasperation, frustration, pain, and suffering. I don’t want to prolong my suffering. I don’t want to suffer needlessly. Who does? So, I recommend not asking that question. If you have had good results with it and advocate it, I’d love to hear from you to understand.