A strange thing happened to me the other day. I was drinking a lovely cup of tea, so on brand, and it tasted like a memory. Is that an odd thing to say? Tasting a memory sounds a little strange, and if you ask me what a memory tastes like? Kind of like diesel, wildflowers in an open field, and a bandaid on my finger. It tastes like a longboat in shallow water and a cup of tea I drank when I was seven.
Did that make it any less strange?
Have you ever tasted a memory? What about your other senses? Have they triggered a memory so powerful, it brings the past forward and momentarily rearranges the chronology of your life? In that instant, the concept of time and space stops being relevant because you’re experiencing everything all at once.
When it’s strong, it can be overwhelming and trigger all sorts of emotions. In my most recent experience, those emotions were contrary, and it took me some time to identify each one. Happy. Sad. A longing to go back and relive that holiday or that age. A small laugh and a shake of my head. There are so many emotions, but it’s not a bad thing. As I type this, a smile is playing with the right side of my face.
It is a strange sensation, and I can’t shake off the memory. It was so strong that I dug through some old pictures. Usually, I try to keep my face out of this space because the things I talk about make me feel self-conscious and vulnerable. It’s easier to write these words if you aren’t looking at me. Which is weird, I know, but it is what it is.
But I’m going to break my own rule and share this image. I was seven, we were on the canals in England. It was the first time we’d seen my grandparents since we immigrated to Canada and our first international vacation. We’d only been apart for two years, but when you’re a kid, those years feel like an eternity. I think seeing them again was better than watching Santa come down the chimney or eating an entire birthday cake by myself. In my dreams, of course, because neither of those things ever happened in real life. Ah, but the dream is lovely.
This moment was happiness after some tears. It’s nothing overly special, not in the grand scheme of my life, but this is the moment I tasted when I drank that cup of tea. I can see it with my eyes closed. I can smell it, and I might as well be sitting on the deck of that boat. I can hear the sound of the engine, my Grans voice, and some birds off in the distance. I can feel the fresh bandaid around my finger. I feel everything.
It’s bizarre how one of my senses can trigger such a visceral response and excavate a memory that’s been buried. It was so long ago, and so much has happened since. In the memoir of my life, as precious as it is, this moment wasn’t exactly noteworthy. Certainly not as outstanding as some of my other stories.
An afterthought, maybe? Compared to the events that were about to happen, yeah, this one wasn’t that big. It was, it seems, very meaningful in the development of my young mind. Now that I think about it, it did forge familial bonds that have only grown stronger over the years. It brought us closer as a family and that’s never insignificant.
It’s just, I was about to go through years of surgeries and frantic attempts to save my life. There would be countless months living in hospitals. How many times did we have to make a mad dash to the emergency room because my body did something it shouldn’t? I can’t even count those memories or tell them apart.
These are the big moments that take up so much space in my memory bank. Like the times my heart has stopped, and I needed a jump start. Saying good-bye to my family before going into another surgery that I might not wake up from. There are amazing memories, like the phone call saying there was a kidney waiting for me. Waking up after surgery to hear that the transplant worked.
My story is full of memories that sound fantastic from the outside, and they were overwhelming to live. They stand out, and rightfully so, I suppose. They were powerful and poignant. They carry the hardest emotional punch, and they’re more interesting to hear about than a little girl sitting on the deck of a boat.
This moment, with the cup of tea, was precious, and it makes me immeasurably happy, but it was so small. It wasn’t striking, and out of all of my memories, this story has none of the elements that make for a good read. It’s not exciting. There’s no drama or tears.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I did sustain a bite from an over-eager swan. We were giving them some food, and one got carried away. It tried to take my finger and, there were a few tears after that. It was nothing a hug from Gran and cuppa tea from Mom couldn’t cure. Sitting on the deck of that boat, Mom on one side and Gran on the other, cradling that cup between two small hands. A freshly applied bandaid around one finger. The smell of diesel and the sound of grass rustling onshore.
If you’ve never seen a canal boat, it’s long and narrow. Kind of like an RV on water, and instead of travelling down a highway, you slowly float down the old British Waterways. It’s a slower life, these boats don’t have much speed to them, but it’s a peaceful way to explore parts of the country you can’t see from the road.
Just don’t give it a try if you can’t sit still or you’re in a hurry. There’s no hurrying down the canals. There’s meandering and wandering, but there’s absolutely no scurrying, dashing, or bustling.
No, my friend, this is a slower lifestyle, but if you’re looking for quality time with family? You will get a lot of that on a canal boat. You can tell me if that’s a challenge or a reward.
For me, as a seven-year-old, it was the best thing in the world. I had all of my people in one spot. Mom could read me a story, and then I could run into the galley and watch Gran cook on that tiny stove. After lunch, I could go up onto the deck, and Dad could teach me how to steer.
Well, bless him, he tried his best, but it never went well. I have a hard enough time telling my left from my right and to steer the boat the two switch places. Left is right. Right is left. Watch out for the fishermen on the shore! Don’t ram them. They don’t like it when you do that, and they use words young ears might not want to hear.
Other than a swan bite and nearly taking out a row of angry old men, it wasn’t an eventful trip. It wasn’t a grand adventure, and that’s what made it so grand. Does that make any sense? There’s something beautiful about the simplicity and innocence of that trip.
Maybe it’s being together as a family? Which is something I desperately want right now. Not just because the holidays are fast approaching. I miss them, and I can’t wait to hug them all. I’m not even a hugger! That’s how much I want to see them, and I can’t wait until we can all sit around a table, enjoy good food, and just be together.
Also, I’m feeling restless. I’ve been craving a big adventure that would pull me out of my funk and send me out into the great unknown. I want to write a new chapter in my memoir and create an exciting story. I want to get out of my way, my body, my neighbourhood and just run wild.
I can’t, obviously, do any of these things, family included, with our current situation, and that’s deepening my mood. It’s been the only thing I can focus on, and the longing has become overwhelming. It’s brought me to tears more and more because, my God, this year has been hard.
But then I tasted a memory that wasn’t exciting or impressive. It’s as elementary as one can get. A bandaid, a cup of tea, and the comfort of two of my favourite matriarchs. The smell of diesel, wildflowers, and the sound of cursing coming from the shore. Dad patiently teaching me to muddle up my right from my left.
It is one of my humblest memories, and as far as stories go, it doesn’t carry the same oomph as the others. Not here, where you come for — Well, I don’t know why you read my rambling, but I’m incredibly grateful. Compared to the other things I’ve written, this story comes down to the pleasure, beauty, and necessity of those small, seemingly insignificant, memories.
Looking back at those days on that boat, I realize that it brought us closer and by doing that, we were able to weather the incoming storm together. Without the strong bond of my family, I don’t know how I would’ve survived those years of pain, struggle, and fear.
For all the wonders of modern medicine, without the support of loving people, there are limits to what it can do. This might sound cheesy, but love is the one thing that gives us the courage to fight. It gives us a reason to keep going and hoping that we will win this battle. Love is vital to our survival.
I don’t know if I would still be here if I didn’t have a reason to keep going. My family is my reason, and that bond wasn’t just forged on the warped battlefields in all those hospitals. It was strengthened long before we started to fight. It was brought together on a longboat in shallow water. It was created on walks through fields of wildflowers. It was reinforced in those simple moments that I took for granted.
Our senses have memories and, thank God they do! They can remind us of the things we dismiss because they seem so unimportant. Or, more accurately, I forget the simple things and spend too much time wishing that life would be different, better. I get caught up in the daydreams and erase the small pleasures in life, but then my senses remind me of all the good I’ve experienced.
The simple moments, and the relationships that were strengthened, have been such an incredible gift. These are the moments that laid the foundation for my survival, and they continue to hold me up. Without them, I don’t know where I would be, and sometimes I need to be reminded that I’m incredibly fortunate to have so much love in my life.
This is why, I suppose, my subconscious gave me a taste of an old memory. I need to stop wallowing in the should’ve’s, could’ve’s, and all the rest. Instead, take a moment to be grateful for the beauty of a simple memory and all it gave me.