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Mon, Sept. 16

Piacenza: Putting memories in their place

Considering my past is something I do less and less these days. I feel firmly rooted in my present, much less haunted by past pains and errors. Despite (or because?) of some recurring back pain, my thoughts tend to be right where I actually am. On the positive side, I’m more able to tune into the beautiful setting I live in, savor the lingering morning coffee moments with my husband, giggle at the antics of our cats.

Occasionally memories seem to come up for no particular reason. Sometime these are long-ago traumas, childhood separations and difficulties. Some are of people who helped me at various stages of my life – “angels” whose kindness made a difference for me. Others recount career highs or lows, revisiting professional motivations, disappointments and accomplishments long-since washed downstream.

I’ve come to realize that each of these little mental vignettes is an opportunity. It’s often said that at the end of life, a person’s entire life flashes before their eyes. I have a theory that the same process is actually happening in slow motion for me! Instead of dwelling on any of these occasional memories, replaying pleasant ones or suppressing the unpleasant, I have a chance to look at them with the bit of objectivity and compassion distance in time can give.

Childhood memories have stayed with me the longest, maybe because they were impressed on a young malleable brain. The years between then and now have spiraled away from original events and each time early hurts come up, I’m in a different, less myopic place. Each time, I’m better able to see and accept the truth of things, to see where the selfish choices were made and where people were simply doing the best they could. Some of that truth is realizing that good and bad, these early experiences shaped my path forward and that I would never have found much of what I know or what I treasure without them.

In this later-life review, I’ve also come to more fully appreciate how valuable a gift the people who helped me gave.

Their supportive friendship, mentoring and encouragement gave me hand and footholds when I was less than steady. If they hadn’t been there, things I thought were all my own doing might not have happened. And even though some have passed on and I don’t know the whereabouts of others, I mentally send them my gratitude and a prayer for their well-being wherever they are.

Reflections on my professional life bring no nostalgia for the rush of details and deadlines! I can’t claim to have conquered the business world and I might have enjoyed things more if I hadn’t been so concerned about making mistakes. But I can see from my present vantage point that I consistently gave my best effort and all in all I did well. I feel satisfied with and grateful to my past self for helping provide a happy retirement life in Prescott!

Next year will mark a milestone I could hardly imagine reaching when I was younger: my 50th high school reunion. For me, as for many, high school memories are bittersweet: some of us have passed on, not everyone’s dreams panned out and we all bear small resemblance to our yearbook pictures. Nevertheless, I’ve volunteered to be on the reunion committee, not to relive but to honor those formative days. Together we made our first forays into defining ourselves for ourselves. It seems right to see and appreciate who we’ve become by celebrating a mutual present moment.

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