We have no control over other people’s memories. We never know which of our actions and words, whether positive or negative, will have the biggest impact on people. Often it’s not the moments you expect. The closer you are to someone the more memories you have to choose from and therefore the more obscure the moment might be.
My grandmother is about to turn 95. When I think back on my memories of her, my mind always rests on the same moment first. It is a moment no one else would ever remember because it was so unimportant. I was probably around 20, riding in the backseat of the car while my mother was driving and my grandmother was the passenger in the front. We were on the highway, driving home, and it was late in the day. A flock of birds appeared over one of the farm fields and looped through the air. My grandmother called out with excitement, “Look at those birds! Just a ribbon of them!”
It’s so simple and inconsequential, yet it’s what I remember first. Her love of nature was encapsulated in that moment, but what really struck me was that I found it to be quite a poetic exclamation to be made on the spot. I was majoring in English at the time and therefore felt a special connection to people who could reveal the world to others in a more descriptive way. But there are two other traits she showed with that simple exclamation that I admire very much in people. One is to be able to be fascinated by the small things in life and find wonder in everyday objects. The other is to show enthusiasm—for anything at all, really. Seeing someone who is enthusiastic about something is to see someone who is in love with life.
I’m sure my mother has no recollection of this moment even though she was there. Neither would my grandmother if she were still able to think as clearly as she once could. But even at the time she would never have thought that those two sentences would be the memory that I forever connect to her when I think of her.
Sometimes the most easily recalled memory of someone is a good one. Sometimes it’s not. The best we can do is keep in mind that the times when we don’t realize people are even listening to us might be the moments they remember forever.
My grandma and me on my first birthday