On the writing magazine I run, we recently set a writing prompt which has provoked more of an emotional response than any other we have set in the past. The premise is: “You are being shipped to an island, but can only take five memories with you.”
I have sat down several times to tackle this writing prompt but, like many others, soon sit back from the screen realising, “Gosh, this is hard.” I started again this weekend by making a list of every notable moment in my life. These moments currently fill a large notebook, so Lord only knew how I was going to pick only five.
Because in choosing five memories to keep, we are of course necessarily choosing to throw many more away – and that I believe is the rub. Our memories inform the way we look at the world and interact with the people in our lives. With that gone who are we and what is our place in that world? A question which undoubtedly plagues those in and around dementia.
So, in actively choosing to not keep a special memory to take to this pretend island, are we saying that it didn’t matter after all? That if it did matter, why isn’t it one of the five packed in our suitcase?
We sail through life being ‘fine’ most of the time, not often required to hold a mirror up to daily life to inventory and re-evaluate the things we think are dear to us. But when we are made to look deep into that mirror, it may go on to inform where we choose to invest our time in the future.
So, this seemingly simple writing exercise may help us to focus on what is really important going forward – important enough to invest in a memory worth keeping.
With that in mind, I am going to theme the five memories I will be taking with me to Island Nowhere:
1. Life is unfair
Anyone who knows me well, will know that if anything can make me cry it’s when something is unfair. This may have stemmed from an early childhood memory of winning a marbles games fairly but then being asked (told) to give back my winnings because the girl I had beaten complained to her mother. It would have been better had she accused me of cheating because then there would be some rationale for her mother getting involved, my mother getting involved and me not helping myself in the proceedings that followed. My punishment might have been lessened had I learnt then to keep my mouth shut.
That said, this memory does mean I am partial to sticking up for those who are treated unfairly or are disadvantaged. This has led to rewarding work with children and mentoring others to greater personal performance. It has also recently informed awareness about the unfairness surrounding transgender people.
So, sitting on that island with the temptation to feel stuck, this memory will be a good reminder that unfairness need not derail us and, indeed, can lead to greater good. Hopefully, then, the whole necessity being the mother of invention vibe will kick in and I’ll fashion a way to vote myself off the island I have been unfairly banished to.
2. I am loved
My late husband Bronnie, my children and my dear family and friends will be the memory to keep me motivated and feel worthy of being saved. On the days when giving up seems the lesser of any evil, the fun, good times and trials we have all weathered will make me determined to stay alive – if only to tell this kick-arse story at a massive family & friends dinner. I loves me a good anecdote.
3. How hard can it be?
This is the question which usually sees me attempting and acquiring a new skill. This is how, inter alia, I learnt to touch type, quilt, rock climb, cycle, play badminton, public speak, blog, write and tend a show-winning garden. On the latter, remembering how to grow food to eat from inhospitable ground will hopefully come in useful on the island. Recognising plants and vegetation that are possible killers wouldn’t be too shoddy either. I suspect, though, the question will be useful when this non-swimmer contemplates making a swim for it. Not drowning should be motivation enough not to sink to the bottom of the ocean. After all, millions of people know how to swim – how hard can it be?
4. Death is not final
This sounds morbid, I know, but what I mean is that the essence of who we are doesn’t die when we stop breathing. Bronnie dying will be the memory I will draw on here. There isn’t a week that goes by without there being some reminder of the lives Bronnie touched and the inspirational threads which still weave through the people he left behind. It will be comforting to know that my children will carry on and lead fulfilling lives because of the influence I have left behind. (And also because I’ve told them not to piss away their lives if I die; to remember the dreams we had for all of us.) Remembering, then, that my children will be okay, albeit after a period of mourning, will leave me with a legacy of a job well done by them should an island shark put me on its menu du jour.
5. Expect a miracle
I actually have a plaque in the apartment with these very words. My son, seeing I was somehow drawn to the words in a bric-a-brac style store, forced me to buy this non-essential item during a particularly bleak time when everything was heading south. This included losing Bronnie and contracting breast cancer without him to hold my hand. And without getting all religious on y’all, I have to say during this time (and still) I have felt the presence of something greater than myself which has not allowed me to fall. There are specific occasions when I believed my hand to be all played out and, miraculously, a solution or a break showed up. I could put this down to my will, but it hasn’t always felt like that. It has felt like God has me in his sights and the only price I need pay is to have faith – to expect a miracle.
Whether the miracle to get me off the island happens, just knowing that it could will ward off despair and keep hope alive I will get to make many more memories with those I love and who love me.
Published in the Eastern Daily Press (abridged) 12-Jul-16