Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Trip Down Memory Lane

I stand on the beach just shy of the Balboa pier in Newport Beach. The wave set is decent with about a dozen four to five feet waves interspersed with a beguiling gentle roll of surf. Making my way down to the waterline, the cold sand is nothing compared to the chill of the water as it wraps around my ankles with froth.

If you stand still, the breaking wave will slowly erode the sand under your feet, depositing more on top until your feet disappear into the ground. I used to do this as a kid until I had to dig myself out.
The pier is busy with people - tourists, kids, locals and fisherman. 70 degrees with a brisk northwesterly breeze and blue skies.

What is not to love?
Kids screaming as the tide chases them up the beach; Teenagers body surfing; towels, piles of clothes and coolers marking small group territories - the southern California beach hasn't changed all that much from the days that I used to catch the bus down from Fullerton with my teenage friends.

I don't remember the berm of sand that you now have to climb down to get to the water. Over the years I’ve heard how these beaches are being eroded – their sand stolen and deposited elsewhere at the discretion of an uncaring ocean. There are no lifeguards sitting in their towers overlooking the crowded beach.  Is it just off-season or is this another casualty of California’s financial woes? I don’t know but I also notice how no one is going very far out in the water. Perhaps those in the water at this moment are simply not comfortable playing where the waves rise out of their swells, form their crests and roll forward with a crashing roar of frothy madness.

I stand on this beach remembering a blur of sensations that comes from thirty year old memories. There was a time that I could have told you what streets you could park on particular days; which houses were rentals filled with college students and where the cracks in the boardwalk were. Driving down today, I remembered knowing all of that. I wonder where that information has gone. Perhaps I’ve released all of that knowledge into the bucket of ‘no longer necessary.’

I mouth the names of streets that I used to know – MacArthur, Jamboree, Katella – and places like Aliso Beach and Crystal Cove.  I used to carry a map of Orange County and the Los Angeles basin around in my head – don’t ask me where the Ventura freeway is today. I may be able to tell you that Katella is near Disneyland but I don’t remember any longer where it originates or how far it travels across the urban sprawl that once was my home.

But I could still show those kids how to body surf because I’ve continued to play in the surf everywhere and anywhere I find it.  Time has passed and even though some landmarks, roads, buildings and locations have not changed – my need to remember them has faded into forgetfulness.

I’m guessing that this is normal and yet, I wonder if these are points of information that I want to refresh – or continue to let fade into my past? I’m left with impressions, snippets of sensory memory. I smell eucalyptus and I am transported to my childhood backyard.  I stand on the beach in Newport and I am walking through a hundred other moments with friends, Coppertone and beach towels.
Letting memories fade releases a sense of vigilance that I’ve held on to for years. I don’t mind remembering or revisiting places, scents and relationships; however, it has become acceptable to find gaps and holes in the memories. I feel like laughing at myself for trying to hang on to so much for so long. I don’t need to be able to recite the stories let alone the meaning that I once made of certain circumstances or events. There was a time in my life that I seemed to need those stories to define who I was. I needed the clarity of where (and what) I came from in order to know where I was going.

What memories become white noise in our heads? What ruts do we continue to walk in when we retell the same meaning making stories over and over again?  It takes enormous energy to continually re-weave the web of our own history and meaning. I think I want to redirect that energy elsewhere.

I’m guessing there are many ways to accept the reality of aging. It is literally the magic of time passing and the softening of memories buried under the years of new experiences. I am the person I am today because of those past experiences and I don’t need to explain the ‘and this is why’ any longer.

I can stand here on this beach, feeling the tickle of sand crabs running over my feet, and simply enjoy the fragmented impressions of a world I lived in a life time ago.
It is a good moment – one of the best.

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