I know enough about memory to know that it's imperfect, sporadic...that we fill in the stories of our lives with details of feeling, thought, and imagery, so that their "final" version fits well within our evolving sense of who we are...where we came from...where we are going. Though we often believe otherwise, recollections of lived experience are often fraught with fantasy: imagined facts that serve to reinforce and even enhance the personal Truths to which we cling.
As I was looking through an old box of photos this morning, I came across an image of what I still remember as one of the most beautiful moments of my life. During fall break 1999--in the first days of my first romantic relationship--I visited the Grand Canyon for the first time in my life. We'd driven through Zion National Park on the previous day, and then headed down to the Canyon's North Rim, arriving late in the afternoon with just enough time to take a first look over the edge before finding a campsite in the surrounding woods.
In contrast to the typical hubbub that is unavoidable at the more-visited South Rim, our spot on the North was all but deserted. I remember driving down through the Kaibab National Forest listening to Strauss' Alpine Symphony...light filtered through stands of evergreens...and then sitting together at the edge of an immense chasm...furrowed ridges bathed in amber. "Wouldn't this make a great spot for a first kiss?" he coaxed. I flushed with youthful yearning, but still balked, far too shy to accept.
A picture then...
Standing alone atop the unguarded rim, my body seethed with awe and vertigo and the thrill of everything the moment seemed to promise. With feet braced to stone, I threw my hands to the sky, and the camera clicked...
The film was developed later, probably just down the hill at our local Albertson's Grocery, and came back mostly blank and overexposed (Ahhh...the days before digital!). Fortunately, this shot survived...just barely.
That relationship didn't last long...a couple of months, and then he suggested we just go back to being friends...which we did. I went off to Juilliard the following year. Loved the city. Missed the mountains. Life went on. I came back to Salt Lake, got a job, bought a condo, played my trumpet, quit my job, sold the condo, went back to grad school, and then followed Rob to Oberlin, where I'm now working to re-build and perhaps discover anew which parts of myself are most important.
In the face of unforgiving realities, ecstatic moments like the one in this photo burn all the more strongly in memory. I think of the great things I achieved in the ensuing years...the unforgettable experiences I never would have predicted for myself...all of which feel inevitably and imminently alive within this photo. I also lament what I've lately perceived as a precipitous fall from what was to be my promising future.
Of course I know how imperfect a summary this memory has become. In the same way I sometimes forget to acknowledge the good things in my life today, I know I semi-consciously edit out (or at least downplay) many of the disappointments that occurred alongside the past successes I so desperately cling to. In fact, it's likely that if I were to go back and talk to my former self, she'd admit to feeling the same insecurity, fear, and sense of defeat that I do today, while totally blind to the enchantment I now so strongly recollect.
As generalized and cliché as this all may be, I believe it is still the essence of the story I aspire to create for myself...the autobiography I hope to reconstruct from a highly imperfect memory of lived experience.