Saturday, March 18, 2017

Look for the Daffodils


It felt really good to step outside and not freeze.

And it was even more liberating to be able to take off my coat and sit under the open sky – I realized I hadn’t been able to do that in around five months.  I turned my face up towards the sun and felt a strange, almost foreign sensation … warmth, almost heat, really, almost enough to want to turn my face away but I didn’t because it had been SO LONG since I felt that!

It was truly a beautiful day – a whopping 16 °C.  Pretty much the same temperature I would whine about in September when we initially arrived in England.  How we adapt and forget and then remember again… the mystery of the human brain.

Memory can be quite erratic, faulty, like a sieve really, things slipping through and disappearing.  Images stick much better than sensations like pain.  That’s why women have more than one baby – (I read that or saw that somewhere – can’t remember exactly … see what I did there?), because they forget the excruciating pain of childbirth they suffered the first time.  Or maybe the joys that come with a new baby make the pain worth it … or not, or maybe a bit of both.  The same reason why we promise to visit the doctor when we’re gripped in the throes of stomach cramps or fever or some other recurring ache, but after it’s over, we keep shrugging off the visit to the clinic. 

Wednesday dawned bright, the early clouds were swept away like someone whipping curtains aside to let in the light, the perfect day to have breakfast at the cute yellow bakery near my work, a deliciously soft cinnamon croissant-roll and a big white mug of hot black coffee.  It was the kind of day that reminds you take in a deep breath, the kind that gently presses the tips of your lips up into a faint smile.  As I walked towards my office I saw a mom bending down to help a toddler with his cardigan, “hold your sleeves,” she told him as his tiny fists curled tightly over his shirt’s long sleeves so that they wouldn’t hike up under the sweater, and I remember how my mother taught me the same thing decades ago some few thousand miles away.  Little things that connect us through the ages and across the continents, feels like a small miracle.  A little tap on the back of your head from God, hey, things aren’t so bad.

Of course, this is still England and it’s been cloudy since the day before yesterday and rainy all of today too.  Temperatures dropped to single digits again and although it hasn’t been as mortifyingly cold as in the east coast, US, or Canada, etc., I want to gently remind you that I am from the balmy city by the sea where the coldest it gets is “let’s switch off our fans now”.

I can hear the sound of rain when the cars slow down, and it’s dim and gray outside. People here are so used to the constant consistent drizzle that they don’t seem too bothered about it.  You hardly see umbrellas.  I guess they’ve accepted the weather and so they go on with it, just whip their jacket’s hood on and continue with their lives – you even spot the runners with their toned legs and puffy faces, headphones plugged in, splashing through puddles and swerving to avoid prams and old people. 

But I needn’t mope too much because there are flowers popping up everywhere. The papery pale pink, lavender and white blossoms that have brought the straggly naked trees back to life, scattering petals on the pavement below as if in preparation for a bride to walk down.  Then there are the bright yellow daffodils.  They’re so stark against the usually gray and white English background that your eyes are really drawn towards them, and they grow in groups from trios to large gatherings sprawled in the grassy patch by the road.  You can find them pretty cheap in all the flower shops and I’ve seen them growing in neater beds in people’s gardens, but the ones I love the best are those growing wild, scattered down a green slope outside a church or clumped cheerfully around the base of a lamp post.  They seem to wave at me I roll past them on the bus.

The daffodils don’t like the rain too much either.  It’s been drizzling, accompanied by short spurts of wind, and I saw them with their heads hanging down, pouting and moping.  Keep your hopes up, daffodils, I tell them, I checked the weather forecast and the sun is supposed to come visit in three days!

I was listening to a podcast the other day on memory and forgetting, and apparently scientists have an interesting theory about how memory works.  I’d always thought (based on high school psychology lessons) that the more you think about a memory, the more you ingrain it in your mind and it lives for longer.  But apparently, there’s an interesting twist to recalling past moments – the more you remember a particular memory, the more you change it.  We change a little bit of it every time we think about it.  Think of it like smudging a painting with your thumb every time you take it out of your memorabilia box, or like exposing a photograph to the sun – it gets fainter every time.

So in essence, the most perfectly untouched memory is the one that you don’t think about.  But then, what’s the point of a memory you never visit? I think I’ll have to run this risk.  I’ll take it on as a creative project, especially if it brings me joy, holding an image in my hand and turning it over, even if that means I’m adding in little details that weren’t there before.  

Maybe there’s some logic to the way our minds work, things we forget, memories of pain dulling with time, and the starkness of happier moments fading enough so that we miss them just a bit less, just a bit less frequently, but still tangible enough so that we can hold on to them on dreary days as well as on days when the sun breaks through and envelops you in a soft, warm hug.   


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