Our book club recently read the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Less by Andrew Sean Greer. It was a strange and beautiful story. Toward the end, the main character is reflecting on giving up a younger lover as he grapples with the disdain he has for his aging body. One of his friends points out that this lover did not know him at 20 in all his youthful glory. They fell in love while Less was in his 40s and that is all his lover knows and remembers of Less. That struck me as profoundly true and beautiful. Like all great books, Greer shined a light on a universal truth of the human condition: We see ourselves as we are now, knowing what we once were. Those who love us, though, see us through the memories in their hearts. Whenever my husband exclaims “Your mama is hot!”, in the presence of our mortified daughter, I know for a fact that we see through our heart memories. In the strictest, traditional sense of the word ‘hot’, I haven’t been ‘hot’ for decades (unless you are counting the hot that comes in flashes). Though my daughter rolls her eyes and warns, “All right, that’s enough of that now!”, I don’t roll my eyes. You see, I know something at 53 that she cannot possibly know at 18. I know he sees me through the memories in his heart. He sees the 18–year-old me he fell in love with, who he apparently thought was hot. He sees a girl in a pink polka dot sundress in the bright midnight sun of Alaska. He sees a girl in cowboy boots and jeans moving mares and foals to the pasture. He sees me driving his truck too fast on a dirt road, belting out a John Hiatt tune. I know this for a fact because when I look at him, I see a strapping buck of 19 in a Hickory shirt, jeans and Carhartt jacket who made me laugh and rode out the storms of my over-the-top Greek-Irish personality. I see the strong man who held me gently when my best friend died. I see the adventurous spirit who drove us into the wilderness and changed the way I looked at life. I see him through the memories in my heart.
I realize this does not just apply to him. It applies to all of the people who have meant something in my life. I see them all through my heart memories. Unfortunately, like Less, I also see I have held back from reaching out thinking that too much time has passed, or I have changed too much, or they won’t remember me. At Christmas, a friend from high school messaged me through Facebook. I had not talked to him since 1984. In mere moments, we were caught up with each other and the crowd we hung with. We have, of course, changed so much in the last 35 years. And yet all of those changes are so easy to fold into my vision of him that is solidly implanted in the memories of my heart. He was so kind to me when I was a new kid in a small town where acceptance seemed predicated on whether or not your first breaths were taken there. As a junior in high school with a southern accent and an east coast style, I felt so apart and he made me feel a part. There is nothing that has happened in thirty-five years, and believe me a lot has happened to both of us, that will ever change the vision I have of him and his friendship through my heart. That loosened the reins holding back my heart. I thought about all of the people along the way I have lost touch with who still hold a solid place in the memories of my heart. I started reaching out. It made me realize that, if I see people through my heart’s memories, then I must be seen that way too. So, what is the price of reaching out really? The only risk is what you have right now – a connection broken. It may stay broken. More likely, it will become a connection interrupted. It is beautiful to see that the girl with the biggest smile is still smiling as she chases around her grandbaby; that joyous, kind former-student is raising two lovely girls of her own; and the quiet boy with a quick wit is realizing his dreams. From the milestones to the mundane, it is beautiful to see them all now through the memories of my heart.
Who are you missing from the memories of your heart?