The Memories That Matter
Updated: Dec 20, 2020
Last week, wrapping presents while the kids were at school, the doorbell rang. I thought it was probably an Amazon delivery so I was quite surprised to see my friend standing at the door, with a heart-shaped balloon, a sleeve of Pringles and my very favorite mint chocolate chip ice cream. I was confused for a second until she blurted out "Happy Heart Day!"
You see, two years ago, I traded my Hanukkah gifts and Christmas baking for a breathing pump and a heart monitor. My harmless, lifelong congenital heart murmur was quickly doing damage to my heart and needed repair, so I had major open-heart surgery. The week of Christmas. Everyone else was getting ready for the holidays while I was recovering in the hospital, and though I was returned home in time for Christmas Day, it was not a holiday that I remember well. Frankly, I assumed that heading in to the new year, I was going to do my level best to forget everything about that holiday season and never look back. And then here comes Tricia, bringing it back up like an anniversary I wanted to remember.
My dear friend Tricia, who will officially put me on the naughty list for talking about her, was a crucial part of my surgery and recovery. From the moment I knew it was in my future until the day she saw me back on my feet, she was there. Pringles and ice cream were the snacks we shared while talking about the surgery options. It was probably a whole lot more of me grumbling about it and Tricia reminding me that it would be ok. And she texted friends and family with updates on surgery day. And she visited me in the hospital with activity books in hand. And she set up a food delivery spreadsheet for the weeks after surgery, encouraging friends to sign up and help. Tricia, along with a cast of other friends and family, helped me through. It was a very hard time. And I was so blessed to have her support.
And there it is. I WAS so blessed is really I AM so blessed, for Tricia is still here, long after surgery. The hardest memory in my recent past also represents one of the very best, for it showed me the connections I have built in California and the community that I enjoy each and every day. If I remember the holidays two years ago I can compare and contrast it to the years that have followed, that have been filled with joy, thanks to a heart that works the way it should, friends like Tricia by my side, and the lessons I have since learned about my own capacity to heal. The memory of heart surgery was horrifying. But the memories that have been created after are not. If I commit myself to not even bothering to think about what I went through, then I likely lose all that followed as well. Memories, especially the bad ones, are still important.
I think there is the natural inclination to shut out all bad memories. To just close the door on any and all things that have hurt us, or made us feel regret or sadness or fear. It seems easier to just pretend that it didn't happen, or say that it did happen but it was not important and should be forgotten. But what if remembering what happened actually serves to help us?
All of our memories belong to us. They are part of the unique journey that makes us complete. Remembering them - the good and the bad - remind us that our experience has been rich and full. Full of light. Full of highs and lows, ups and downs, or times so dark we just couldn't see a way out. But we did. And here we are, ready to fight another day. Every time we ignore the bad, we also ignore the good that it may have ushered in. We ignore what we could potentially learn from it. We ignore a part of what makes us who we are today. Life is pretty fair in that it distributes good and bad events for everyone. We are not standing alone with bad memories or sad events. It is part of the human experience. Most importantly, it is part of our experience. We can hide it away. We can try to forget it. Or we can use it to our advantage. To grow. To adapt. To learn. To heal.
Thank you, Tricia. Thank you for being there for me when I needed you most. Talking me through my fear. Reaching out a helping hand even though yours were busy juggling your own life. Being cheerful when I was down. Letting me be down when I felt like it. And celebrating my progress along the way. You reminded me that my darkest and more difficult memories are not to be hidden but celebrated for what they have meant as part of my journey. Two years after heart surgery I'm here. Celebrating the holidays the way I want. Remembering, fondly now, how far I have come. With you at my side. You had better hurry back to see me before I eat all of those Pringles.