I took a walk this afternoon. A park sits just to the west of the school stadium, and a nature trail winds through the woods of the park. Years ago, when I taught Emerson and Thoreau, I would walk my English classes to the park and have them sit and experience "nature," journaling about their experience.
I hadn't been on that path for years. It had changed a little. A few taller trees, a little less water in the pond thanks to our summer drought. A felt a moment of nostalgia, but the moment passed.
Earlier this week, I took another walk. The top 10% from our senior class were honored at KU's Memorial Union, and after the ceremony I strolled around the campus. I have very few memories of the campus from my years as a graduate student. I was also a new father and full-time teacher, so most of my memories are blurry at best--not to mention 75% of my classes met in Kansas City at a satellite campus. Most of my memories stem from other times, some distant and some very recent... some slightly bittersweet and some strong and good.
Here's what I've learned about place and memory: time passed isn't as much a factor to how I experience a place as the time in my life when I revisit it. The lenses I'm wearing now shape how I tell the stories of my memories, and memories without stories attached are just vague things without much form or shape.Like ghosts of feelings which, like other ghosts, can haunt.
Visiting those places often exorcises the ghosts and leaves the story. I want the story. The ghosts can stay behind.
For years, I used to feel sad when we left my mom's place in Clay Center. It was a deep, chest-squeezing sadness. I grew up in that house. My formative memories hold it at their core. Earlier this fall, as we drove away from the house for the last time, no sadness came. I was done with that part of my life--I knew it, and this part, where I am now, has no need for that old house. The lack of feeling almost surprised me, but it also reminded me that this is how it should be.The ghosts don't need to haunt us.
I have countless stories from my childhood--countless stories built from memories of that house, my neighbors, and the small town which raised me, but I don't carry sadness anymore. Stories are good, wholesome things. Human things. And I count myself lucky to be able to tell them.