“Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.” Kevin Arnold
I’ve been thinking a lot about family lately. About how we communicate, how time escapes us, and how memories keep loved ones near. I’ve especially been thinking about my grandparents. I had a dream about my grandpa (Papa as we called him) the other night. It was one of those strangely real, vivid dreams that stay with you, even after you wake up. True to life, in my dream Papa had been gone for many years, but he’d left something for me. Something he wanted someone to give me. I didn’t know what the something was, but was excited about the gift, sure that it would hold some sort of special meaning or message. Boy was I disappointed. A dried sprig of herbs wasn’t exactly what I had in mind – dreams are strange creatures!
The dream left an impression on me though. It filled me with a sort of desperation to be near Papa again, to hear his voice and his life-filled laughter. And it made me think how nice it would be, if those who are gone from our lives could go on speaking to us, even after they are gone.
I was reminded of a home video my parents took of my brother and me when we were little. Papa is in the video, sitting on a bench at a park. I’m scooting closer to him, and my brother is toddling just at his side. My grandma comes into the picture and picks up my brother. Everyone is smiling. The audio is fuzzy and the picture quality isn’t that great, but you can hear my grandpa’s laugh – his big life laugh, as he takes me on his knee. We all look so happy.
The first time I saw this video, it filled me with an understanding I’d never had before. I’d always known how much my grandparents meant to me, but I’d never considered how much I meant to them. Of course I knew they loved me, but I’d never really thought about how much they loved being grandparents. Their joy was captured perfectly in the video; you can see it in their faces, hear it in their laughter. They loved my brother and me so much! It made me feel incredibly proud to have known them and to have had a part in their lives.
Remembering this video, I thought about how my life has been so deeply shaped by those who loved me and are now gone from my life. There is a comfort in knowing not only that you’ve loved, but been loved. Maybe this is the gift after all, the message I was searching for. Memories often remind us of what we are missing, but they should also remind us of the love that made that person memorable. How that love remains and grows in us, through our expressions, our passions, our beliefs, even sometimes our physical traits. How the ones we miss continue to speak, because they are a part of us – something that will always be. And we are a part of them, continuing their story, shaping it into our own.
“There's much more in any given moment than we usually perceive, and that we ourselves are much more than we usually perceive. When you know that, part of you can stand outside the drama of your life.” Ram Dass
It’s a 30 minute train ride. On New Year’s Eve, the platform is busier than usual, but when the train arrives I find a compartment that’s almost completely empty. As the journey carries me out of the city, past the busy airport, and into rolling Scottish countryside, I lay my head back against the seat and let my mind clear. We flash past towns. Sometimes we stop. The train rests as if it is merely catching its breath before rushing on. At one stop I count to 30 before we are moving again. Despite the pace, the ride feels relaxed and somehow sheltered from the rest of the worlds speed, like a reprieve from everyday. The compartments are quiet with only a few passengers and there is nothing to do but sit back and take in the view. Outside grey clouds break. Dramatic tails of sunshine dip down across the countryside in vibrant long stretches of light. Distant slate grey clouds tease of rain.
When we come to the Forth Bridge a few minutes later the view opens up, stretching across the impressive length of the railway bridge mirrored by the road bridge directly adjacent. Extending on both sides, the wide Forth River flows past colorful houses perched on the stony rivers edge where freighters and sail boats head for open sea. With this expansive view my pulse quickens in recognition of a secret crush for this land, a crush I’ve always had for this land, even before I knew it as I do now. Sometimes it’s hard to admit to this affection (and that it might be more than fleeting). Living in a foreign country does strange things to your emotions and sense of belonging. It can become easy to hate a place simply because it’s different than what you’re used to or it isn’t where you ultimately want to be. But, after all these years, I’ve come to accept the struggle and see ways that it has made me grow. Coming to terms with these transitions has brought about this odd recognition—although I don’t consider this place home, something of its essence has seeped into me. And there are moments, like crossing the railway bridge, where I can’t help but acknowledge the connection.
There is something akin to home on these train rides, although I can’t quite decide what it is that makes these journeys feel comfortably familiar. Maybe it’s the families with their attentive parents and young children who exclaim over views of the sea, an excitement I share quietly with a smile. Or maybe it’s the young couples, heads resting on each others shoulders, their quiet conversations and hands entwined reminding me of my husband who will be waiting for me at home.
Today, a young Spanish couple sits in front of me. They move from one side of the train to the next with a vibrant energy that is infectious. The young man keeps taking pictures of the young woman, the sea as a backdrop. It’s obvious they’ve never made this journey before. They look quickly forward, then back, but never focus on what is coming or what is left behind for too long because they are too caught up in what is directly outside their window. I feel their enthusiasm, as if I too am seeing it all for the first time. It’s the water that impresses them most and I agree. The power of the sudden opening view to sea is like a constant revealing secret, surprising and unexpected.
As the tracks leave the seaside and turn inland back to rolling countryside of stone stacked fences and sheep, I can’t help but see this journey as a kind of contradiction to resolutions. It’s New Years Eve after all—a time when we are suppose to be making promises while looking back and planning forward. But what about the here and now? The excited young couple reminds me that it isn’t always about where we have been or where we are going. Sometimes it’s the journeys that are in process. It’s the immediate emotions and experiences and moments of realization that tell us we are alive that are important. Sometimes it is where we are that is the most extraordinary journey of all.