When Hurricane Sandy sent floodwaters pouring through the first floor of my home, the depth of devastation only became apparent in the effort to clean up, move on, start over.
As I dug through the closet, I opened the large plastic bin I had used to store the mementoes of the baby years – a journal I kept while pregnant with Mira, the pages all stuck together; Christening outfits that were soaked and yellow. In the garage, my husband Sid found a box full of newspaper clippings – all my first bylines and later, my favorite bylines, cemented together like a paper brick. To mourn over each drowned item was to threaten losing strength for the work ahead. So eventually boxes were thrown to the pile heap on the curb. Eventually they were hauled away, and eventually I chose to forget what was lost and what had been spared.
Last week, my friend Tracy gave me a large manila envelope. “You have to know this about me,” she said. “I keep everything.” She had been cleaning out her mother’s basement, and came across some things she thought I might like to have. Mira’s birth announcement. The photo from Mira’s first Christmas card.
Sandy was more than three years ago, and like many who endured her wrath we tell ourselves we’ve moved on, that life is back to normal, that in the end we endured and are stronger for it. Blah, blah, cliché, blah.
But then a friend hands you a picture of your newborn that you thought you would never see again, and you realize that the defining moments in your life never leave you. They lurk, waiting for the right moment to remind you of all you’ve been through, learned, and survived.
Today I received another large manila envelope in the mail. A former editor, the one who was brave enough to give a young reporter the freedom to figure out who she was as a writer, sent me a pile of newspaper clippings. They were of stories that I’d written that she enjoyed enough to hold onto, and oddly enough many of them are ones I still think of to this day.
A byline is quite a thrill. When you haven’t seen yours in a while you realize how much you miss those letters in bold and the power it asserts. Those were my words. I knitted the narrative. And I owned the reader’s attention, and hopefully heart, for just a brief while. I have to be honest — it was a power I reveled in. Still do.
Holding those clipping in my hand was like stumbling upon lost treasure. I really thought all those old bylines were gone. I tell my kids that before they were born, I was a newspaper reporter, but I had no proof. Or so I thought. For the second time in a week I found myself weeping over finding what was once thought to be lost.
I’m starting to think that life is not a line that brings us from one point to another. Rather, life is a spiral, an ever-enlarging circle that brings you back, but then moves you forward. You don’t always know why you had a certain experience, good or bad, or made a connection with a person, brief or long. But there’s a good chance that while journeying on the circle, you’ll get a reminder.
A storm that rocked your life but strengthened your soul.
A friend whose hoarding results in the gift of a lost memory.
A mentor whose faith in your talents propelled you once, and likely will again.
Maybe memories haunt us for a reason – because they still contain lessons we need to learn.