By Katie Choi
What goes into making a good memory? Not the kind of memory where you can recall what you ate for dinner or what you were wearing last Tuesday. But the kind that stirs up nostalgia and has you yearning to relive and recreate. Do you set off thinking you are going to make today the most memorable day and work hard to fill it up with all sorts of exciting activities? Do the best memories happen spontaneously that you can’t plan or predict? Do big family vacations or large life events make for the best memories because you are in a beautiful setting or surrounded by all your friends and loved ones? Do sweet, ordinary, everyday moments all add up to make the best memories? I think that maybe it is all of these working together.
My family and I got out of town last week. In an act of true spontaneity, we booked a trip to the beach with our neighbors having less than two weeks before we hit the road. In recent memory, I don’t think we have ever made a decision so quickly so it was a surprise that we all agreed to make this happen. When you plan something pretty quick like that, time takes on a new feel. I didn’t have as much time to daydream or plan or organize. It made me feel nervous. Nervous that we were acting too quickly, that we shouldn’t be traveling during a pandemic, that I would forget something, that I shouldn’t take so much time off work. Nervous about a lot of stuff.
But it also made me excited. Excited that my two year old daughter was going to get to see the ocean and the beach for the first time. Excited to spend time with our friends. Excited to take a break and to get out of town. I think a lot of times when we are planning a trip we are balancing those nervous, logistical feelings with those excited, yearning ones. Making sure we are prepared but making space for joy and wonder. I noticed some things about myself that tend to rob me from allowing the space for joy and wonder. These things aren’t new and seep into other areas of my life, but they played a role in my reflections of the planning, going, and coming home. I highlighted three thoughts below. I thought about them in terms of this vacation, but I think they can play in day to day life, too.
Don’t let the impending, unknown stress of the journey create inaction or fear. I do this a lot, and in terms of traveling, I dwell on my daughter’s young age and how that can make a lot of things challenging. For this trip, we were in the car for 13 hours. For a two year old, that is not an ideal environment because she has to be contained in her car seat, and most of the time she can’t quite entertain herself. She also can’t fully express her emotions so if she is tired or uncomfortable, she can’t tell us that but instead cries or whines and that isn’t always pleasant. But no matter how ugly it was along the way, I knew we would arrive at our destination. This time, I tried to call attention to this knowing this would be stressful for me ahead of time. I said out loud that I was worried about the car ride. The stress was still there, but I was more mindful of it ahead of time. So what I would tell you is, plan and do and give yourself grace while you act courageously to create fun experiences for yourself your family. Sometimes the rough journey is worth the destination.
Keep your expectations in check so that ones left unmet don’t leave you disappointed. This is something I have done for a long time, and I don’t think I realized the extent to which I did this. (I might be willing to give Covid a teensy bit of credit for this revelation, but right now feels too soon. I’ll reflect on that in a couple years.) I am really trying to be thoughtful about this because I have found that I have not been setting myself or others around me up for success. I have to be more reasonable about my thoughts when it comes to making memories and living in the moment. Maybe it is checking the weather and seeing rain in the forecast and instantly feeling disappointed or maybe it is building up my daughter’s excitement upon seeing the ocean only to find out she doesn’t want the water to come anywhere near her. Maybe it is going out to dinner and hoping for the shrimp to be the seafood of your dreams only to wish you had ordered the fish instead. Whatever it may be, unmet expectations can steal from reality. Maybe rain in the forecast allows you to go out to lunch or being scared of the ocean can present an opportunity to build a sand castle instead. Maybe it’s okay to just have a mediocre meal. A little change in perspective can go a long way in what you experience and take in. But, this is tough, and an active thing we have to practice again and again.
Unplug and be present so you don’t miss the little things. It may be because I am trying to be more conscious of my own phone usage, but on my trip, I felt like I saw so many people on their smartphones on the beach. Some people would walk by talking on the phone, but others that I saw would be sitting in their beach chair, white sand underneath them, ocean out in front of them, and they would be looking down at their phone. That bummed me out! But I tell you what, I did it, too. I have email on my phone, and I would check it periodically while sitting on the beach. Telling myself I would only look for a minute. Who knows what I missed in those minutes? Dolphins swimming by, a bird swooping down to catch a fish, my daughter throwing sand in her pail? Maybe some of those, maybe none, but you can’t soak in memories if you aren’t engaged with what’s going on around you. Sit. Be. Take in the smell of the salt water, the way the breeze feels on your skin, watch what’s going on around you and don’t always feel like you have to take a picture. Trap these senses in your mind and savor it there as best you can.
My husband asked me what my favorite part of our trip was. To me, I loved sharing another house with a family we cherish and watching our kids laugh and play together. I loved going to the beach and watching my daughter slowly get braver, inching her way closer into the ocean. I loved waking up and drinking my coffee with my husband and us not rushing out the door to work. I loved watching my daughter take in all these new things and have such an awe in her eyes. I didn’t tell him how I don’t really like sand in every nook and cranny of just about everything or the long car drive or worrying about how often to apply sunscreen. Those things were there, too, but those aren’t the things I am going to cherish and remember. Those aren’t the things that will prevent me from wanting to plan something again soon.
So what goes into making a good memory? I still am not sure I can answer that with certainty, but for this trip, it was spending quality time with people that I love. Last week it was on a trip to the beach, but most of the time it is taking stock of the joy in the everyday. I am praying with you and for you and wishing you peace.