Last fall, I asked a friend of The Urban Retreat, Jennifer Jacobs, to come to a few Journey Inward sessions and blog about her experience. Below is her reflections after moving through the workshop "Your Story":
I’m not always up for reminiscing. I don’t want to remember hard times because I’m not sure how it’ll end – in a little twinge, only, or a full emotional reenactment? It’s getting on a Tilt-a-Whirl: Sometimes your seat is a dud and you barely swivel, but sometimes you spin wildly, gripping the metal bar across your lap until the ride ends. I don’t want to ride through the stirring up.
I don’t always want to dip too deeply into remembering the good times, either. To look through photos of one of my children’s first year of life is to miss her smell, his portability, the couch-bound days of breastfeeding. It is to feel that I couldn’t possibly have appreciated those times as much as they were worth.
A strong memory is like a sensitive spot on a tooth – if my tongue goes prodding around back there, sure enough it’ll zing me. So it was with some trepidation that I mapped a timeline of my life. The idea is to note the events that were significant, regardless of how big they were (it won’t be all graduations and weddings, births and deaths), and to categorize them as either positive or negative, above or below the line.
The first time I went through, there was an almost bright line delineation between childhood and adulthood – many more positive memories as an adult than as a child. But the following week, without working on it, several happier childhood memories came to mind. What surprised me was their setting. I think of myself as having been an indoor kid, bent over a book or watching Scooby-Doo, but the happiest memories of my childhood involved being in nature, often near water.
Another revelation, the biggest mystery and joy in the process, was seeing the small things that loom large. It’s easy to rattle off the major events in one’s life, and someone looking from the outside can have a pretty good sense of their external impact. But many of the moments locked in my memory are conversations, often even just comments, that felt like condemnations or benedictions – a
“You’re too . . .” that was a heavy label that I wore for years, or a kind word that began a welcome shift. Certain friendships changed the course of my life, really. It wasn’t so much that years of knowing a certain person changed me, although surely they did, but that in a moment her specific words of blessing or his unexpected kindness was a jolt of mercy that knocked something loose in me.
Looking back like this makes me expect to be surprised by good things. I have been, so many times as an adult! It also reminds me to hold loosely to the actions of others. I see that so often it has been my response to another that has dictated whether a moment is sealed as significant and whether it lands above or below the line. And I am even more cognizant of the power of what I say. May my words be benediction – an invocation of good – on the people with whom my life intersects.
- Jennifer Jacobs