Profound Memories, Or “AHA Moments”

When we take stock, it’s every experience we’ve had that are the sum total of who we are and how we got there. There are also moments within those experiences that are so profound they touch your soul and leave an indelible mark. Not a long-term memory, or the verbiage floating around now that speaks of your life being made up of moments. I’m talking about the kind of experiential moments that sink in and change the synapses in your brain or maybe the DNA in your body. Those moments change forever who you are and the way you remember or look at the world, and aren’t they all so unexpected, even when surrounded by planned events or the routine of your days. It’s no wonder they are sometimes called “AHA” moments.
Standing at the window in my living room I could see the kids across the street. I saw my daughter with her wild red hair bound across the street, single-mindedly heading home. She didn’t see the teenager coming down the street. She didn’t see me screaming in the window, hear me pounding on the glass. I was like a trapped animal, panicking behind our over-stuffed furniture and a wrought-iron entry way railing. I couldn’t get to her in time. I saw the front of the car make contact, her body falling limply out of sight. I ran for the door and out into the street screaming her name. By the time I got to her, she was sitting up looking shaken but unharmed. The teenager was visibly upset, apologizing profusely. He was working on his brakes and driving very slowly, engaging the brakes every few feet testing them, and though neither saw the other, he was barely moving when the two collided. They were both scared but unharmed and very shaken. My memory is one of abject fear and sick anxiety. It brought home sharper than any infomercial the illusory notion of completely protecting and keeping our children safe at all times.
A wave of warm contentedness washes over me when I remember sitting at a table in the empty bar of the Old Port Inn up the coast in Avila Beach, California. The silvered wharf at Avila Beach is a working wharf of fishermen. My gal Sarah and I drove up from Orange County for a weekend get-away and finally arrived tired and hungry, looking for something quick to revive us after setting up our campsite. We walked down the darkened old wood planks of the wharf towards the building at the end, past fisherman in their waterproof gear washing down their nets and equipment after having cleaned and sold their catch of the day. We were seated by a window looking out at the water as the sun was just lowering towards the horizon. We sat through the golden hour in the quiet before dinner rush and luxuriated in cups of Cioppino broth and sourdough bread to sop it up, accompanied by a wonderful wine. The memory I carry is sensory; the sight of the weathered fishermen in their waders, the feel of the waning sun coming through the windows warming the table and us, the almost sepia quality of the light that time of day, the briny flavor of the fish broth, the sour tang and smell of the hot fresh bread, and the mellowing warmth of the wine. We stayed longer than we planned, and didn’t regret a moment.
When my grandson was born Sarah and I stood with my son-in-law at the ready for the most awe-inspiring event you can experience. I’ll never forget the way my grandson exited his mother and entered the world folded up and compact, slick with fluids, eyes closed against the harshness of the delivery room lights. Then a miracle of birth occurred and his body unfolded like an intricate and beautiful piece of origami, arms and legs akimbo, screaming with hunger just as his mother had before him. When I am discouraged by politics or anything negative, I think about that moment and remember that someone great came into the world that day and I am lifted by the love and sheer joy of that perfect memory. Yes great things will be brought about by that young man. I know it by the ancestral DNA passed to him at inception , and the loving family that surrounds and supports him, and the brilliant boy that he is. The memory I carry is one of awe at the perfection of tiny human bodies emerging from mothers already in love with them and the wonder of creation itself.
The slack-jawed face of death and the heart wrenching pain of loss when Sarah, my partner of twenty-four years, passed away was soul crushing. On the evening of her funeral, I observed Jewish tradition and lit a mourner’s Shiva candle that would last the initial seven days of mourning, starting the year of observances. That night after we sat Shiva at Temple Beth David, said prayers, and heard all the wonderful memories from past co-workers, friends and family, I went home alone for the first time in weeks. I set the 10 inch blue glass cylinder on the stove and lit the bright white candle with its pristine wick. The candle diminished slowly day by day. Many times I returned to the candle standing sentinel amongst our prized orange and red Le Creuset and leaned my face over the opening, its silver Star of David beckoning me. I could feel the soft warmth of the flame caress  my face reminding me of my beautiful girl’s soft warm fingers on my skin. Her hand on my neck to ease tension in rush hour traffic, her hands holding my face, or working together hand by hand. This sensory memory is now induced with the lighting of a candle, invoking the sensation of her warmth.