A glimpse, a moment – that’s all it takes.
Suddenly you see yourself, six-years-old, standing at the edge of a dock and looking into the water. Your big brown eyes soak up the excitement, the anticipation of jumping in and giggling your way back up the ladder and into the sunshine.
Sometimes life gives you a window into your own past, memories that you didn’t even realize you’d forgotten. Often they creep up on you unexpectedly. But, there are certain places, certain situations – the smell of mom’s cooking, the sunlight streaming in through a window – that evoke a nostalgia so strong it reintroduces us to our past selves in ways we never thought possible.
This past July, I went home to Ontario. This time I skipped my home town of Kanata and went straight to my uncle’s family cottage on Lake Joseph in The Muskoka, a beautiful lake region where I spent many weeks each summer throughout my childhood. It had been eight years since I’d last been there, and many things have changed. New boathouses were constructed and things were adjusted here and there, but the biggest difference was that in the years I’d spent away from the cottage, siblings and cousins had children – a total of ten of them. For the first time, I’d be sharing that space with two handfuls of the next generation.
There is little downtime with children around, and I had limited time to sit and reflect, but the moments of nostalgia came knocking anyway. Often they would pass in a split second, but some evenings I had the chance to just sit and be in my surroundings. One night I lay on the pullout couch in the boathouse where I was sleeping and listened to loons calling for hours. The air was perfectly warm and breezy. I watched the moon rise until it decided to stop right in the center of a window, casting light inside like a beacon.
As moonlight sparkled on the water, I took time to reflect on the sense of familiarity of these sounds, this place. This was quintessential Ontario in summertime – the way I knew it as a child. The moment rippled through me, making me feel like a kid again. Yet here I lay, 28-years-old, with new roots growing deeply in the Canadian Rockies. In that same moment I felt the gap, the distance created by my new life on the other side of the country. The strangeness of it all made me miss the simplicity of childhood – when what you know is all you really know.
The next day I went searching for rocks and sticks in the forest with my four-year-old nephew, Carter. Later that day, my father and I took Carter into Port Carling to explore and get an ice cream cone. I watched my childhood being repeated in my young nephew. I saw his joy and my childhood joy in him. It was a beautiful moment and one that helped me to reconcile the strangeness I’d felt the night before.
As I cleaned the ice cream off Carter’s mouth we laughed and suddenly I was a kid all over again. Even when our own childhood memories slip our minds, that next generation is there to remind us of the things that once made life so exciting. Even when you can’t remember, children are there to help you create new memories.
They are vessels, open and free, ready and willing to take you along for the ride. All you need to do is hop on board.
This post has been on my mind for a number of weeks, and I can thank Katie Levy of Adventure-Inspired for inspiring me to finally write it. You can check out her recent reflections on returning to her own roots here.