There’s value in dredging the mind for treasures
When we were stationed in Mayport, Fla., my “me time” was spent walking the long, wide stretch of Atlantic Ocean beach that flanked our base housing neighborhood. On days when the kids were in school, I mostly power-walked with fellow military spouses for exercise, but when I was alone and needed to de-stress, I’d slow my pace and scan the trails of flotsam and jetsam for fossilized sharks’ teeth, millions of years old.
I’ve never been one to meditate, but the search for these tiny relics helped to clear my mind of everyday distractions and worries. My focus became singular, allowing my senses to feel the warm sun, smell the sea breeze and hear the bubbling surf.
I guess that’s called “being present in the moment.” However, I experienced more than mindfulness on those walks. When I was lucky enough to spot a shark’s tooth washed up among bits of shells, driftwood, seaweed and bottle caps, I’d feel a rush like I’d won something. Inspecting my small prize, I’d wonder at its glossy dark surface and tiny, sharp serrations.
How was it possible that something millions of years old unearthed itself and landed, perfectly preserved, at my feet? At first, I thought I was specially chosen to take care of each minute nugget of ancient history. I later learned that my collection of fossilized sharks teeth came from periodic dredging done to allow Navy and merchant ships to pass from the Atlantic Ocean into the St. John’s River. Although this fact made me feel a little less special, it taught me something important.
Life passes by too quickly. I feel dragged along, wanting to slow down, grasping at moments but being carried on, looking back, searching for what has already passed. Time, fast and fleeting, proceeds without pause, and I fear my life experiences might be lost, forgotten.
This is probably why I have hoarding tendencies. To me, everything from the plastic umbilical cord clamp from my 26-year-old son’s birth to my sparkly dress from from the Navy Ball gets saved, squirreled away lest I forget.
But memories aren’t stored in boxes in the attic. Year by year, minute by minute, they deposit themselves in our minds. Layer upon layer of information sifts slowly down, settling like sediment. Memories, faces, phrases, shortcuts, names, scenes, multiplication tables, practical skills, scents, music, trauma, book chapters, feelings, trivia, thoughts, quotes, jokes, flavors, movie lines, shame, crochet stitches, cookie recipes, dance steps.
Without a reason to reconstitute them, those layers of life moments might lay undisturbed and forgotten forever. So, we all subconsciously mine for old bits of data, using them to tell a military spouse friend about that awful deployment years ago, or remembering that mom always added an extra teaspoon of salt to her chocolate chip cookie recipe, or jumping up to do the Cupid Shuffle at a cousins’ wedding.
Fortunately for me (maybe not so much for my friends and family), I dredge my mind’s shipping lanes often, keeping a free-flow of vivid recollections at the ready. An avid storyteller, I love to relay tales of my childhood, or a conversation I had yesterday at the commissary deli, or how I embarrassed myself at a command holiday party years ago. Much to some listeners’ dismay, I feel stories are best told in great detail, with exaggerated expression and a story arc that slopes steeply toward a dramatic finish. Or, at least, a funny punchline.
If you are a storyteller like me, you’ve probably been told that you have “the gift of gab,” or noticed that others roll their eyes when you begin to spin a yarn. Don’t be deterred, because truth be told, the enjoyment of stories is mostly in the telling. It’s a way to slow down the pace of life, grasp moments that are precious or humorous, and make them come alive again for yourself and for others.
Like finding a fossilized shark’s tooth swaddled in the sandy swale, a storyteller’s real gift is delighting in digging for buried treasures, perfectly preserved in time, and bringing them back into the light to re-experience with wistful wonder.
Read more at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com, and in Lisa’s book, The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.