I came across a piece of paper on my desk with words that referred to three personal memories: “Rear Window,” “Catcher in the Rye,” and Patti Smith. What had happened in each instance that I wanted to remember? Was there a connection? It took a while, but I figured it out - the theme is “discovery.”
When my son was in high school, he needed to watch “Rear Window” for homework. Since streaming didn’t exist then, I called our local video store and requested that they hold their copy of Rear Window for me to pick up later that day. When I went to pick up the movie, I told the owner that this was for my son. As he handed the movie to me, he said, “I envy your son. I wish that I was having the experience of watching this movie for the first time.” He knew that very special one-time-only experience of first discovery.
Some years later, I was cleaning out a book closet in our home, and came across a copy of “Catcher in the Rye.” I was over 50 years old, but somehow I had missed reading it during my teenage angst years. I sat down and got immersed in Salinger’s prose, in Holden Caulfield and his world of phonies and rebellion, and in a New York City era I wished I could have known. I was grateful that I had not discovered the book until I was an adult. It was a surprise literary gift that I had not expected when I opened it.
Patti Smith sang “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” at the Nobel Prize ceremony in 2016, the year that Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In the middle of the song - because of anxiety - she didn’t forget the words, she just couldn’t get them out. She stopped, and asked the orchestra to start over. It was a humiliating experience for her, but like most people who were in the audience or have watched the performance online, I found the stop and the restart of the song brave and poignant and thought it was a beautiful interpretation of the lyrics. She wrote about the experience in the New Yorker in 2016, and ended beautifully with this personal discovery: “And all the things I have seen and experienced and remember will be within me, and the remorse I had felt so heavily will joyfully meld with all other moments. Seventy years of moments, seventy years of being human.”
Pulling out memories and looking into them can inform the present, and possibly change the future. The lesson I learned - stay curious because discovery reveals.
Judy Gordon is the founder and host of San Mateo Focus podcast, and attended MEA in 2019 - InfinitUs cohort.