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Who We Are Recalling the lives we live

March 29, 2019

We each have memories of past life events. The more meaningful or traumatic the event, the more likely we’re apt to remember it in exacting details. But what about those ordinary commonplace experiences we savor and wish we could hold onto how we felt, what we thought. Sadly, with time those ordinary experiences can fade away never again to be recalled or reflected upon.

The funeral we went to this past January was not a traumatic event, but it proved particularly meaningful. The day after one of my two daughters said to me, “I know this sounds odd about yesterday, it was sad, but I had fun.” The following day my other daughter said the same thing. My wife and I agreed.

What gave us each so much pleasure about saying goodbye to my wife’s first cousin? With no fanfare Ponnie had given of herself endlessly to her family and, over the last 30 years, to the children and staff at the school where she worked. That was so noted in the eulogy and in the reception that followed.

But there was more to why my wife and two daughters felt so special about that last day with Ponnie. It took me more than a week to realize why we felt collectively the way we did. We had re-bonded as a family.

Of course, there have been other memorable occasions over the years. In the late 1980s we took a trip to Europe, even though plane hijacking was a common occurrence. I was confident we would be safe. And with lower fares to Europe and a discount from my employer, an international hotel chain, we decided to go.

I will always remember our Rome underground garage escape, a somewhat traumatic event. Unable to find the exit my family was becoming anxious. So, I gunned our rental car’s gas pedal and screeched out through the entrance before the parking arm came crushing down on us.

Later, as we got off a tour bus, a New York Times correspondent asked to interview us. Because people fear flying, vacations to Europe had decreased substantially. The reporter wanted to know why we had made the trip. The following weekend she wrote an article, “Americans in Italy Few but Happy.” It’s in the Times achieves online.

One is unlikely to forget about being trapped underground in a foreign country or the New York Times writing about one’s vacation abroad. No more than one might forget particularly meaningful or traumatic incidents. We typically remember each of them vividly, detail by detail.

But how about those moments we want to savor where nothing unusual has taken place? It could be as simple as a family dinner. Or a child’s innocent observation. With time, memories of the ordinary fade.

So how does one recall events in one’s life worth remembering? I can speak only for myself.

Once, as a 15-year-old, I built a scooter. I nailed a wooden milk crate onto a block of wood and screwed roller skates under the 2-by-4.

Everyone in our neighborhood had one. And so, on a hot day on May 5, I decided to make a mental image of mine. The image of the month, day and year is as clear to me now as if it were yesterday with me racing down the street on my home-made scooter.

At that same time, I pledged to remember future specific instances. Perhaps a psychologist or a brain scientist can explain what prompted me as a teenager to begin snapping mental images. Or why my “intentional recalling” stopped at Camp Drum, N.Y., during two weeks of Army Reserve training decades ago. I have no rational explanation for either.

In retrospect, I wish I had continued taking those snapshots. Sometimes we let go of the best lessons we’ve learned in our earlier years.

A few weeks ago, the Westport Long Lots elementary school put on the play “Annie.” As we left the theater to go to our cars, my 11-year-old grandson, Jay, said to me, “Could you walk me home Grandpa?”

It was the most pleasant three quarters of a mile walk I have ever taken. The chance of my forgetting that is remote. But to be sure, I recorded our stroll in my collection of mental images.

Juan A. Negroni, a Weston resident, is a consultant, bilingual speaker and writer. He is the chairman and CEO of the Institute of Management Consultants. Email him at juannegroni12@gmail.com