The Memories And Ghosts That Haunt Us
“Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there!
He wasn’t there again today,
Oh how I wish he’d go away!”
Antigonish was written by William Hughes Mearns in 1899 based upon reports of the ghost of a man roaming the stairs of a haunted house in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada, (hence the title.)
What Is It That Is Really Haunting All Of Us?
I don’t believe in ghost, goblins, poltergeists, spirits, or other supernatural being/things/whatever that are out to haunt us and make our lives miserable.
BUT – we all have our “ghosts” that lurk in the corners of our minds. They can pop up in quiet moments of reflection, or be triggered by something we see or do that reminds us of them. And like the little man that wasn’t there, they are damned hard to eliminate.
What are they? They’re the memories we wish we could forget. All the things in our lives that have gone wrong – and the moments of sadness, of disappointment, of tragedy, and even the times of pure terror we’ve experienced.
Do We Need Memory Enhancers Or Help Pushing Out Old Memories?
A quick scan of the herbal shelf at your local drug store or grocer will reveal a multitude of “memory enhancers” of highly questionable efficaciousness. Snake oil peddlers have been selling similar remedies for hundreds of years. Doubtlessly, as soon as a society (tribe) became sophisticated enough to support a shaman, the new witch doctor was similarly treating people for memory loss.
We don’t need memory enhancers – we need memory forgetters. If there is ever an effective product that will bring on forgetfulness, that will let us selectively eradicate those ghostly memories, I’ll be the first in line with my credit card hot in my hand.
Until then – if ever – the only way I’ve found to rid myself of the ghosts is to crowd them out with “good” memories – the ones we enjoy recalling – the fun moments, the pleasurable moments, the exciting moments, the successful moments.
So how do you make “good” memories? In particular, how do you make enough to crowd out the bad ones?
We Never Forget Our “Firsts”
We remember the “firsts” memories. First kiss, first lovemaking, first house, first car, first pet, first day on a job, first team game we played, first time we do almost anything. Those get that extra little “dab” of significance in our minds. “First” memories are easy.
So how do we accumulate more first memories? We do more stuff – plain and simple. The more new things we do, the more uniqueness we add to our lives, the easier it is to crowd out the bad old memories with good new ones.
We all have our personal “firsts.” The first time I pulled back on a control horn and lifted off into the wild blue yonder. The first time I stepped out of a perfectly good airplane into the better part of mile of nothing but air. The first time I pulled on a scuba rig. The first cruise up California’s Highway One in a convertible. The first drive down to Key West. A blimp ride above the Las Vegas strip at night. (Sadly the blimp was relocated to San Diego soon after.)
The first time on a fishing boat with no sight of land on the Gulf of Mexico. The first moonlight sail on a board boat with my girlfriend on Lake Travis. And the first and only “shipwreck” when a friend and I destroyed his sailboat off Port Aransas. (I can attest to the durability of Igloo ice chests. It made it to shore before we did with the beer still intact and cold.)
As in the case of a our “shipwreck,” sometimes even the “disasters” can provide fond memories in retrospect. We crawled (literally) ashore, discovered the chest of cold beer, popped a couple of tops – and burst into laughter at having survived. A lot of survival moments produce that reaction. I missed getting run over by a tornado in Oklahoma by a lucky red light I stopped for. I’ve survived hurricanes, a typhoon, and even the Great Texas Ass Freezing of this past winter. I’ll never forget the moment when the power came back and the lights and heater sprang again to life.
It’s Up To You To Get Out There And Make New Memories
Some memories just happen – and others are “manufactured.” Vacations to new places have to be arranged and plans made. If you go to the same place for thirty straight years, everything begins to blur into a memory haze. Go somewhere else – see something new – try something you’ve never done. Maybe just get in the car, pick a random direction, and go!
But even in the trivial grind of our daily lives there are opportunities to add a little uniqueness to our existence. When I worked in Houston, I had two choices for the morning commute – the I-45 freeway morning parking lot – or I could take the tollway and get honked at if I slowed below ninety miles per hour. Now, I’ve got a four mile commute with no direct route to get to work. In between me and my job is an upscale subdivision in which the street planners laid out the maze after a four day drunk.
There isn’t a square block anywhere and the streets wind up and down forested hills and cross a number of minor and medium size waterways. I take a different route every morning and evening. And I’ve got my eyes roving for photographic opportunities. I’ve located a half dozen scenic sites with some possibilities. Since it FINALLY stopped raining, I’m going out tomorrow morning and evening with my Nikon in tow to capture some physical memories.
Seek Out The Unexpected
When you’ve got the day off, avoid the golf course or watching some mindless drivel on the tube or net. Draw a one hour travel circle on a map centered on your home and go explore. If it’s a gorgeous day, rent a convertible, but regardless go exploring. Hit the parks and natural areas. Try out the swings and the hike/bike trails. And above all, expect and seek out the unexpected.
We were fascinated walking through an architectural salvage yard we stumbled upon on a back road. Spent too much at a pop up craft fair. Watched a large herd of deer feeding at dusk. Stopped for dinner at a way off the beaten path hole in the wall joint for some of the best Omaha corn fed steaks I’ve ever had. Spent an afternoon at a local dragstrip. Picnicked beside a normally small waterfall that was a major torrent after upstream rains earlier in the day. Bought fresh right off the tree peaches at a farmer’s stand. Stopped at a highway pullout and stared across a hundred miles of hills with a raging thunderstorm light show in the distance.
Over the years and over many locales, we found countless little wonders that added to our memories. Riding the free ferries at midnight across the Mississippi in New Orleans. Walking a deserted beach in Virginia at dusk. Riding several steam train through the mountains. Riding “real” trains for dinner or up to the Whistler area from Vancouver. Lying back on blankets under dark, dark skies and discovering the universe – or watching a celestial meteor shower light show – and once discovering a mama bear and her cubs watching us.
Taking fascinating factory tours of anything and everything. Touring the vineyards of wine country. Watching the pronghorns racing effortlessly along for mile after mile. Marveling at NASA’s displays at their “rocket parks.” Watching and hearing and feeling a heavy lift rocket launch. Buying street food from city carts. Scarfing down ball park franks at a minor league baseball stadium. Watching an old time travelling circus under a tent big top. Finding an old small town movie theater and watching a golden age classic.
There are opportunities galore out there just waiting for you. As we grow older, we tend to slow down – to take life easier – to fall into a rut where the days flow by in a blur. Don’t do that! Don’t sit and let the ghosts creep up on you. Get up and go out – build new memories – try new things – and stay alive and living.
Do it – and maybe the little man on the stair will go away for good.