“But the thing about remembering is that you don’t forget. You take your material where you find it, which is your life, at the intersection of past and present…Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are.”
The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien
This morning I woke at 5:30 a.m. in a hotel bed in Los Angeles. The sky was still dark. I listened to the stream of traffic outside the window, the sound of jets at LAX taking off and landing.
I shared a double bed with my six-year-old son, Ren, last night. He’s a chaotic sleeper. My husband, Chris, woke in the middle of the night and asked if we could switch beds because Ren kept smacking him in his sleep. When I woke next to Ren this morning, the black sliver of his crescent eyes and the sound of his breath jogged a memory from five years ago—the two weeks we spent in Chinese hotel rooms with him staking his claim between us.
On our walk through the hotel lobby this morning, we passed an indoor pond of koi fish, and again I remembered China, when every morning after breakfast we’d walk outside to the koi ponds with scraps from the table wrapped in napkins and shoved in our pockets. We would feed the fish, their open mouths at the surface, eager to be fed. It was like giving communion every day.
The beautiful thing about paying attention to the present is that it usually leads you on an unexpected journey through your memories.
To be present is also to remember, because the thing right in front of you is connected to what has already been.
You can’t separate them. Memory and imagination are a far-reaching and mysterious web where time and logic have little say.
Today we are driving from LA to Santa Barbara to attend my husband’s 20-year college reunion. He wanted to bring the whole family, to show the children where he grew up, and to introduce them to the people who shaped him into who he is today. Worlds collide. The present and past intersect, and when they do, it’s a sacred experience that’s hard to reduce to language or photos.
Every time I travel I’m struck by how big this world is—how many people there are and how many stories we hold between us. My life is so small, and yet it is big because we are all connected by our humanity and by the ways our human senses engage with our immediate and past experiences. Like the koi fish at the surface of the pond, we are hungry to find these points of connection.
During this trip to California, new memories are being made. The plot of our current life is becoming more complex and nuanced. We are becoming more open. What we always thought was true takes on a different shape. The older I get, the less sure I am of anything. The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know much at all.
We hear so much in our current culture about our lives being a story—that we are living a story. I often wonder how much of that is actually true. For me, I can rarely detect one grand, sweeping narrative in my life. My own experiences feel more like an obscure collection of short stories, or little poems that take shape in their own way, in their own time. Writing allows me to see how these ordinary moments speak to each other. They share common themes and tensions, which run like a hidden current beneath the surface. But even then, the current is mysterious and can’t be easily reduced to a single plotline. We look our entire life to pin the story down, but it’s as wild and invisible as the spirit of God.
Amidst a social and political climate that’s wrought with division, sharing these small moments of our human experience can stitch us back together, thread by thread, across time zones and cultures, across the past and the future. They unite us in our shared humanity. They allow us to feel more integrated amidst a life that feels as jarring and chaotic as cosleeping with a child.
Libby Kurz holds a BS in Nursing and an MFA in Creative Writing. Her work has been published in The Poet’s Billow, Relief Journal, Driftwood Press, and Literary Mama. A veteran of the US Air Force Nurse Corps, she now resides on the coast of Virginia with her family. When she’s not reading, writing, and keeping tabs on her three kids, she works as registered nurse and teaches poetry workshops. She is passionate about a good cup of coffee, bumming on the beach, and finding meaning in the ordinary moments of life. You can find her at www.libbykurz.com.