Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Making Memories

My mom and dad went on their first cruise together in 1996 for their 25th wedding anniversary. By the time that cruise was complete, Dad was in love all over again. He had always been a fan of traveling - as a truck driver, he had even taken on a career entirely devoted to traveling - and this was traveling times ten. Cruises became their new default vacation, and if he wasn’t on a cruise, odds were good he was booking or planning the next one. If you never got to experience my dad talking about one of their cruises, you missed out. He loved it, and that love was infectious.

He loved sharing it too. Dad was always inviting friends and family to go on those cruises. He spent years trying to get us to go with them, but the logistics were difficult, to say the least. For most of those years, I lived in western Washington, almost as far away from the ports they were sailing out of as you can get and still be in the same country. Heather and I moved to Arizona in 2010 - still too far, but closer, just about half the distance closer - and we were finally able to make the logistics work in 2011. They were booking a cruise for that summer, and Dad made it very clear that he really wanted us to go. To be totally honest, we were worried about his health even then. Dad had been having trouble with diabetes-related vision problems and, though he never said much about those worries, I had done my own research on some of what he did say, and the possibilities were concerning. We wouldn’t dream of saying it out loud, and certainly never to him, but knowing there might be a very real limit to how much longer we would have the opportunity played a large role in our decision to make that trip happen, no matter what. We weren’t entirely certain that we wanted to go, but we were certain that we wanted to go for Dad.

We were idiots. We didn’t do anyone any favors. We had the most fun I can ever remember having in a single trip, bar none. We haven’t managed to do it yet, but we were talking enthusiastically about the next cruise as we were disembarking from that one. I couldn’t possibly describe all of the wonderful experiences we had on that cruise, but I did manage to take somewhere in the neighborhood of a million pictures. I don’t think there was a conversation the group of us had after that cruise that didn’t involve mention of that cruise. I don’t doubt that some of us will still be talking about it for many years to come. That trip generated the kind of memories you hold onto for a lifetime.

Did I say we didn’t do anyone any favors? That’s not entirely true. We did me a pretty huge favor. Dad died two years later and I’ve gone through some pretty rough waters since then, but there hasn’t been a time when I couldn’t look at the pictures from that cruise and smile. For Christmas last year, Heather bought me a digital picture frame to go on my desk at work, and I’d guess about half of the pictures I’ve loaded into that frame come from that cruise. The same usually holds true any time I’m putting together any kind of collection of my favorite family photos. It’s not just that those pictures represent the last time I got to spend quality time with my dad. That’s part of it, no doubt, but it’s also so much more than that. It was a great memory, whether first, last, or middle, and we really did have a great time. The enjoyment shines clearly through those pictures, and makes them better pictures as a result. I can look at the memories we made and the love we shared, and that gets me through some pretty bad moments.

That’s an important thing to remember. It’s easy to look back on what you’ve lost and to only see it as what you’ve lost, but you had to gain it first. You had that moment, and nothing will take that away from you. You haven’t lost the experience. It’s true that you will not have more of that particular experience, but you haven’t lost the one you had. You haven’t lost the memory. Memories are a treasure, and we need to treat them as such. I could try to avoid my memories of that cruise, out of fear of the pain they might bring up, but that would be like draping a heavy curtain over a priceless painting. I could let those memories tear me down, seeing only the pain the loss has brought, but that would be like taking a match to that painting, destroying all that was good about it and rendering it useless for any positive purpose. I choose to put that painting on display, cherishing all of the good that went into making it, and letting it remind me of things I sometimes forget.

There is another side to that, of course. You have to actually be there in order to make those cherished memories. I don’t mean you have to show up. I mean you have to be there, present and engaged. You have to be mindful of the people around you and the things that are happening. Recognize each one, hold onto it, and let it find its proper place in the gallery of your mind. You are the painting and the painter both in this illustration. The artist creates the art, and is created by the art in turn. Everything changes every other thing, but you might miss it if you’re not being an active participant. Make memories that you will cherish, and be a part of those memories that someone else might cherish.

There is this one picture of my dad, my brother, and me sitting at a patio table outside of a cantina in Cozumel, Mexico. Three Amigoes sharing a beer on an international trip. The smiles are indescribable, and it is easily one of the best pictures to come out of that vacation. That’s not just my opinion, either. I have yet to see anyone go through those pictures and not zero in on that one. It’s almost like the universe arranged that entire cruise to get that one perfect picture, that one perfect memory. It’s a memory I’ll cherish for the rest of my life, and I know I’m not alone. Yeah, it brings a tear to my eye, but it also brings a smile to my lips, and that means more. We made a memory that matters, and it will always be one of my greatest treasures.

Take the time to make your memories and gather your treasures. There will come a time when you don’t have that chance, so make sure you do it while you can. One thing you’ll never regret is taking the time to make treasured memories. Count on it.

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