“It was nearly dark, for the dull November twilight had fallen around Green Gables, and the only light came from the dancing red flames in the stove. Anne was curled up Turk-fashion on the hearthrug, gazing into that joyous glow where the sunshine of a hundred summers was being distilled from the maple cordwood.” L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
As we have traveled and discovered what the world has to offer, sometimes literally eating and drinking our experiences up, we have become a bit spoiled. For example, after swimming in the crystal-clear turquoise waters of the Bahamas and enjoying pristine powdered-sugar beaches (often on an island we didn’t have to share with anyone else), coming back to Florida feels a bit disappointing. God forbid we express these sentiments—looking down our noses—to someone who just moved here from Wisconsin, for instance, who thinks the waters of Boot Key Harbor are mesmerizing. What boorish snobs!
How do we come back from experiences like we’ve had—a three-and-a-half-year Caribbean odyssey, for example—where the brilliance of our memories makes daily routines look dull and humdrum? How do we integrate the unforgettable moments from our journey into our daily lives and talk about them (when they come up in conversation) without sounding boastful? (“I swam with whale sharks…”) Rather than using comparison, which makes the day-to-day look dim, we must allow memory to enrich and inform new sensory input. And we can express gratitude for a cool experience instead of bragging.
Let me explain: I can’t taste a cup of coffee without thinking of the elixir that bears that name which I drank in the Panamanian cloud forest. But instead of bemoaning the poor imitation in my cup, I can taste that morning brew and glow for a moment in the light of my memory, like enjoying the firelight that offers the warmth of a hundred summers. I can relive that time-and-place, that taste of Geisha coffee beans—grown, dried, roasted, ground, and brewed on the side of that volcano in that forest where I hiked with my family and first saw howler monkeys up-close and witnessed a dozen varieties of hummingbird in a single afternoon. Heaven knows I won’t be trying to actually recapture the experience by brewing a cup of Geisha here and now—even if I went to Amazon.com and ordered the 6.7-oz. box of beans for $80, ground, and brewed them at home! Better to drink a cheap cup of coffee with cream and sugar and add a dash of memory. And savor it quietly, without needing to talk about it. Or, alternately, talk about it: maybe everyone has a favorite-cup-of-coffee memory, and that could be a springboard for a great conversation.
And, maybe, that is a good reason to travel: to “collect verbs instead of nouns” (thank you for that quote, Davina, wherever you are). We do it, not just to say we’ve been there and done that, but because we want to enrich our lives now and broaden our horizons here. Every sunset for me now contains the sunset from the top of a Mayan pyramid, and is consequently made more beautiful by it.
We are so fortunate to have these memories. We had a few short years while our kids were still at home to make them, and now they will keep us warm for years to come, long after all the small people have grown up and moved on to their own adventures.