Memories are a priceless present, says columnist Beth Cooper-Howell in Woman on Top, her weekly column for The Herald
There exists a little-known spiritual theory that every action, reaction or feeling we experience is exclusively the result of a memory trigger. At a basic level, this would mean that tea and toast soothes, because one’s younger self felt soothed by it during a childhood illness, perhaps, or associated it with the ultimate human aspiration – unconditional love.
The more complex aspect of memory theory posits that absolutely nothing we do or say is the result of an authentic response based on the present; all of it – every breath – is simply a reaction to memory and in many cases, memories so deeply hidden, that our conscious selves have forgotten them.
I wrote, several years ago, about a very vivid dream involving my eighth birthday party. The details were so real – pukka lucid dreaming – that I checked myself by sharing its details with my oldest childhood friend Marli and her little sister. Four decades of memory-making and through the thicket of my teens, varsity days, tanked up 20s and now, apparently, an adult life ringed with white picket fences, I can still taste my mom’s chocolate cake which we ate standing around the dining room table, plumped to the gills with fizzy drinks and chips.
It was my party but Marli and Jana remember it too. Mostly, we think, because my folks took us all to Mike’s Kitchen for burgers and chips.
We also wore Star Wars masks, which was the ultimate treat given our obsession with the film and its choppy-haired hero, Luke Skywalker. Everybody said that I could be Luke when we played Star Wars in the garden afterwards. Good people, those kids.
Armed with some scant varsity knowledge of Jung, I used to analyse my dreams but this one just was what it was. If there’s a subconscious message hidden in my total recall of what we all wore and ate, I haven’t found it.
What I have realised, though – and perhaps this is my soul’s funky nod to spiritual evolvement – is making good, lasting memories is possibly the most treacherous task of being a parent.
And 20 years from now I damn well hope my kids have decent dreams about the phenomenal life I created for them, rather than the usual reminders (in public) that I shout a lot and don’t make any sense after 5pm.
My dream did have a positive psychological impact because it outed long-forgotten happy childhood moments. Like the giant bonfire we had one year, when my uncle fiddled with the flames and turned a cosy marshmallow braai into Dante’s Inferno. Put a gaggle of girls in front of that and your party is cheap as chips – the primitive danger and wonder of a fire that’s taller than you never fails to entertain.
I’m not sure what purpose memory serves beyond survival and lessons learned. But of all the events that stay with me through the years, I understand now that it wasn’t the trophies, prizes, first places or personal accolades that mean the most.
Marli’s treasured memory of being my friend was hot, buttered toast after a sleep-over. It was not the birthday gifts I gave her over the years or how much money our families spent on giving us the best life could offer.
Memories are a priceless present. And if you love your kids, or yourself, or anybody, really, there’s nothing simpler and more enduring than making today one you’ll remember forever.
St Francis Bay freelance journalist Beth Cooper-Howell takes a look at the other side of life in Woman on Top, her weekly lifestyle column for The Herald.