I’ve spent time doing my best to recall my earliest memories, but I’m not sure I have recall prior to the age of 4 or 5. There are things through my life that I have never forgotten. Images that have stayed with me through my years. Although they lived in some cases 50 years ago in real time, they are only a fraction of a second away. And isn’t that how life is though? Fractions of seconds with tons of memories. In one minute we can travel through time and live through years of memories.
I was 5 years old I was playing outdoors with two of my cousins. We were on the walkway between dark brown brick houses and at the mid point between our backyard and the front of the house where there was a lot of pedestrian traffic. We were laughing about something when an old man slightly hunched over in a French beret and a striped top coat walks by with a cane and looks at us and carefully aims the heel of his cane and as if to point a gun at each of us and starts shouting, bam, bam bambam … we ran screaming into the house, panicked looking for our parents to rescue us from someone who meant us harm.
The few times I was able to go out with my dad were always special. Once to see a huge warehouse fire not far from our home. I was 6 years old and was in awe of the fire. We could see the fire trucks and smoke from the building completely engulfed in smoke and flames. There was a new overpass being built and it was still closed to traffic so we entered through the opening in the fence and walked up the ramp so we had the best seat in the house as we watched this warehouse burn to the ground. We literally sat at the edge of this new unfinished road high above the events below us and watched as if it were opening night for a movie. As we sat there I could feel the heat on my face from the burning building across the street all while I enjoyed my dads company.
Or when I was walking home from the local Italian social club where my dad often played cards with his brother and father in laws. A tradition brought over from Italy I suppose but I wouldn’t have learned that for a few more years when we actually move to Italy. This one day though as we stood at the corner of Barton and Sherman Streets in a neighborhood full of immigrants, a young man was run over by a car. We just missed seeing it actually happen but there he was. Pinned under the car. People were yelling frantically wanting to do something to help him. There was flesh laying on the ground next to him. An image I have never been able to forget. My dad tried covering my eyes but it was too late.
Or more recently the image of my daughter taking her last breath. As she lay there in a coma, her organs mostly shut down and her heart rate speeding, frantically trying to keep her here with us for as long as possible, as if it knew that living was more natural than dying … and then it just stopped. Her heart could no longer keep up this pace. Within seconds she exhaled a long breath almost of if it were a sigh … she was done. No more fighting. No more struggle. Only peace. I screamed out her name as if she could hear me and come back and keep living but also knowing that in this surreal moment, what I wanted most would never happen.
Yes, memories. A life of memories. Happy memories and sad memories. Some scarier than others and some ridiculously fun. If I think through the years of all I have experienced, the journey, the people, the places, the best and worst of times, it may seem like an eternity and yet how is it that I can live all these moments almost instantly? Perhaps this is a glimpse of what we are truly like as humans. We live each day as 24 hours and the days turn into weeks and then months and years and years become decades and then perhaps one day a century.
And yet, what if our life is nothing but a fleeting moment in time. And only when we begin to see our life as this tiny little blip in the time continuum of humanity, only then can we truly begin to appreciate all we have and everything we have been through. Because in the end, our memories will remind us of the life we have lived and in as quickly as we can rummage through those memories, that is as brief as our life will have been.