A few days ago, we opened the windows and left them open all day. Fall poured in bringing invigorating smells attached like gift tags to happy memories of autumns past. I felt my favorite flannel blue and green jacket I wore at age six drape against my shoulders. I saw the colored leaves we picked up on a leaf walk with my mom while pulling a red wagon. I felt my own laughter in my chest as I ran to jump in crunchy leaf piles. I tasted the hot dog from a high school football game as the breeze chilled me through my band uniform. I flirted with the boy who grew into the man I would someday marry. I pulled the paddle of my kayak through the chilly lake water smiling at my husband as he tried to splash me while we explored the colors of the trees from the lake. I joyfully rode hayrides and cow trains, picked pumpkins, and played on outdoor slides over our son’s lifetime of Octobers hoping that one day those memories might flow through his open window tied to the scents of this time of year.
Memories are strange things. We hold within us memories of good times and of bad times. We wish to remember the good memories more and think of the bad memories less. But, attempting to forget the bad memories seems to only invite them to overstay a never given welcome like the college friend who leaves a late night fast food bag in your dorm room trashcan resulting in a stale, morning odor no amount of air freshener can cover. Nothing covers the past. Nothing erases it, and sometimes the rotten stench coming from it distracts even the most focused mind from more pleasant thoughts.
The morning we opened the windows, I felt broken. Unpleasant memories flooded my mind. My body felt sluggish, and I felt discouraged that I once again remembered so vividly what I most wanted to forget. Our young son asked to go outside. I did not want to go. I wanted to go back to bed, pull the covers over my head, and start the day over tomorrow, but I knew he would only see the covers over my head as the start of a never-ending game of blanket fort building. So, we went outside, and we stayed outside – for three hours.
By the conclusion of our outdoor adventures, we had played a variation of croquet with made up rules I never grasped, flown a kite with only enough wind to keep it airborne if the person with the string ran, drawn chalk drawings on the driveway, and took turns on a swing. Somewhere between the chalk and the swing, I started smiling. I could still smell the hint of the unpleasant remnants of my past lurking around, but I could also smell the present. I grasped at the day’s beauty and unwrapped every happy memory the fall breeze brought to me while enjoying the gift of the moment I had before me. We can never change the memories from yesterday, but we can add to the good ones we are able to recall tomorrow.