Memory Road

I decided to head back to my “ruts” last week to spend some time in places and with people from past lives. Over the years I have been “home” to New England for holidays, summer vacations, college reunions and to see old friends/family- but this year there was no real occasion except a hungering for a favorite beach, old haunts and the opportunity to share these with my 14 year old daughter.

Life seems to change according to our perspective - and this was very evident last week. As I drove down 95 (heading north) I was suddenly conscious of places along a way I had traveled many times before but hadn’t really “seen.” After an hour, we came to Baltimore- which is where I attended graduate school in the early 80’s. I was a commuter (worked full time, went to school full time and lived in Rockville, MD) who grew to know and love the city as I explored its ethnic neighborhoods, unique markets and redeveloping waterfront. That was a time in which I was maturing into real adulthood. I had a clear direction, a close group of friends, meaningful work, fun dating relationships- and I believed that life would be anything I wanted it to be if I just worked hard and kept the faith. As I drove past, I thought about how nice it would be to spend some time there again.

We continued on towards the Maryland line and I saw a sign for Havre De Grace. My great grandfather, Timothy O’Leary was a famous lawman in Philadelphia and he was an investor, co-owner of the Havre De Grace race track which is long gone (1950). I know this because I read his biography in an encyclopedia of famous men from Pennsylvania. His parents came over from Ireland in the 1850’s- and they had 11 children. Timothy was the 5th or 6th. He had one child, my grandmother, Abigail, whom my daughter is named after. As we drove past, I shared some of this with Abby and said that we really need to make a stop there sometime soon and explore some roots, maybe stop in Perryville (next door) and try out their new “one-armed bandits.”

We continued on to Delaware. 25 years ago I met my spouse in a beach house in Bethany, DE. Now, that was a summer… Then on to NY, where I was born and spent the first 12 years of my life and where my in-laws and some cousins of mine still live. Soon after we arrived in Connecticut where we passed a sign marking the exit to the town my parents moved to when we left NY. What a wonderful experience it was living in Ridgefield. We rode our horses every day- going bareback, jumping over stone walls and running like the wind. There were nights skating on the pond, lit by a large bonfire, and warm spring and summer evenings when we camped out in the nearby fields or up among the rocks in a place we called “the castle.”Farther down the road we came upon the turn that took us to the summer beach community next to Mystic where I spent many happy childhood summers- and where my parents live year round now. Finally, we got to Rhode Island, and Newport- where I lived for 7 years as a college student, and as a young adult starting out in the world.

I realized as we traveled this road that every experience, person and place helped to shape who I am today. I also began to see my life as a series of lives, each one very unique and filled with its own lessons and growing pains. I was also struck by how often we all run through life, busy with the getting there- which keeps us from being truly present in the moment. My reflections led to an epiphany that the moments of joy I have experienced came from “being there,”- body, mind, and spirit. No wonder we so often lose the sense of wonder and happiness we knew as children. It’s not really all the layers of responsibility and commitment that get added year after year. It’s that we let these come between us and the simple, naked, moments of living in the here and now.

From now on, I plan to take time every day, even just 10 or 15 minutes and find that still place within myself- where I can be alone, unencumbered and open to drinking in the environment around me with all five senses. If you are missing the joy in life, I recommend you schedule some breaks to find that lost wonder contained within you.

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