I banish some moments and others slip away on their own, leaving me staring into a gap-toothed, shadowy collection of memories. Yet I take them as whole. I remember my entire three years teaching in Las Vegas as hard and dark and painful.
But a weekend with friends who lived those bleak days with me let us remember a different story. The marshmallow war in science class . . . our first softball game when the other team batted around twice in the first inning . . . the table of guys who barked at us at Wolfgang Puck’s . . . the Christmas party . . . the break-in . . .
Five seconds before, the others had not remembered; but with one snippet of prompting, it flooded back. Even the hard moments could be recalled with a smile from the safe distance of years and hundreds of miles. The stories spilled out in scattered sentences passed around the table from one to the other, each threading on more detail, more context.
And as we lingered over breakfast the final morning I realized how much good lined those years. There was light and laughter and fun, not just struggle. There were people who loved me, who carried me and who fought for me. There were victories mixed in with the missed marks.
Lessons surfaced as the memories were stirred. Failing and failure are not the same. Hard and good are often inseparable. The sun will rise and it will set—and it will be beautiful—no matter how rough the day. A hike can pound the paralyzing anxiety away, at least for a few hours. A good meal, with good friends, can reorient an entire week. Sometimes when I ask for help, I don’t get it; ask anyway. Sometimes when I don’t ask for help, I get it; accept it with gratitude. Hold on to the people who stay present when I’m my worst self.
The weekend came to an end. I boarded my flight and glanced over my shoulder at those three years again. The memories were more balanced. Golden patterns of love woven against the dark shades of gray glimmered in the light of perspective.