Memories As Moments of Peacefulness

[A week or so ago I mistakenly published this post for a few minutes. Emails were sent out to subscribers, but the post was not available except in the email. It was supposed to be published October 2, as it now is. Sorry for the confusion.]

In later life it seems memories occupy our minds, crowding out missions, goals, and objectives.  Recalling the past is a worthy enterprise especially if we bring to mind hopeful experiences or beautiful images.

Fall is here—temperatures are cooling—and winter is surely coming.

Winter is my favorite imaginary season. In reality, living through a real winter in western New York, where I grew up, is an ordeal, especially for older adults. We tend to feel the cold and fear the ice. Brushing snow off autos and scraping ice from their windshields are difficult tasks, as well as shoveling driveways and sidewalks. Driving requires the quick reactions and flexibility of a young adult. And then winter lasts from November through parts of March—snow, slush, freezing then warming. It’s a long, tough experience.

But the hardships aren’t what live in my imagination. Instead, I have memories of spectacular beauty, like when an early snow in late October comes silently in the evening, with large, wet flakes floating gently to the ground. It silences the entire world yet makes no noise itself. Space seems to close in—we can’t see very far—so we watch the flakes a few feet in front of us, perhaps as they build up on a railing or branch.

The key experience is peace—a gentle snowfall is peaceful and quieting. It’s a call to stillness and contemplation.

I remember one winter day when I was a boy. My mother put me in a snowsuit and sent me out to play. It was after a fresh snow, and I was maybe five years old. I wandered out into a crystalline world where the sun sparkled from every surface. I marveled at the snow buildup on branches and buds—so delicate and translucent. A tiny nudge would unbalance everything and send the snow tumbling to the ground, producing small craters where it hit.

I soon found a large bush with branches going in all directions. They grew upward, then bent outward and draped toward the ground. There was an open spot between the branches on one side, and I could see an area under the bush where a boy might fit. So I started to crawl in, moving slowly, bushing aside one branch, then another, losing the snow on some but barely disturbing most of the bush. Finally inside, I slowly turned to lie on my back and look up. The branches appeared black against the profusion of light streaming in, and the snow was translucent. Lying still, I marveled at the sunlight dancing through the bush. The sky was blue, the snow white, and the branches appeared black—a montage of stunning beauty.

I lay there for many minutes, I’m not sure how long. Eventually I figured I needed to move on. I wormed back out, the snow still mostly intact, and wandered on to some other adventure that I don’t remember. But here we are, 63 years later, and the image of the snow resting on the thinnest of branches, flickering in the sunlight against the deep blue sky, is still clear in my mind.

How do we account for a memory like this, so long ago, when so many other moments in life have vanished?

A few minutes with an old memory, in a quiet place, and I’m again ready to travel my path, perhaps with a few branches of snow lingering in my mind.