If only I remembered them
I’ve been very fortunate, and I’ve had remarkable experiences across six out of seven continents.
For a number of years, I documented my travels as a blog. Initially, it started as a way of avoiding multiple emails to family and friends. And then, Type A that I am, it took on a life of its own.
I obsessed about getting the perfect shot, so I was always behind a screen looking at a two-dimensional image shorn of any smells, sounds, textures, and tastes, never fully being in the actual event. I thoroughly researched my location and even went so far as to choose my meals based on what would photograph well (yes, I do realize this was probably going too far). And then I would fret about whether or not there was sufficient internet coverage to post. Often there wasn’t (no coverage in either the Sahara or Kalahari deserts FYI) and I’d stay up too late, missing convivial moments and precious sleep, frantically trying to catch up.
However, even with the meticulous set-up and curated photos, and text prompts, I barely remembered most of the places, events, and the people. I certainly didn’t remember the sensory experiences I was having or sharing the excitement with my companions or who they even were in some cases. I was far more focused in the moment on recording what would make it interesting for a reader rather than what was making it interesting and meaningful for me. I was never fully there, experiencing the moment, and my trips became less and less satisfying on a personal level. And my fretting and fussing diminished the enjoyment of those traveling with me, too. The guilt lingers on.
Looking back, it seems obvious that if we don’t actually pay attention to what we are experiencing we won’t remember it in a meaningful way. Clearly this is getting harder and harder with our digital weapons of mass distraction. When we’re busily curating moments for social media or our blogs, we are missing the richness of the actual experience. And while the loss of one memory or two is probably not a train smash, it is our memories of what we’ve achieved, who we know, how we react, what we believe that all add up to who we are as an individual. It’s our memories that tell us how we’ve spent our lives to date and prompt us to who we might aspire to become in the future. It’s our memories of happier times that can give us comfort in a difficult present and hope for the future. And, a good story about something that we did or that happened to us isn’t possible without a vivid memory of the event!
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So, I stopped writing the blog posts. Now, I mostly let others take the photos and I try very hard to be fully immersed in the experiences. No longer worried about how to frame the experience for someone else’s pleasure, I slow down and take the time to absorb what’s going on through every possible sense. The memories are more colorful and powerful now but, I still regret missing out on all the richness of those previous experiences.