The Importance of Small Moments
Every moment that passes becomes a smaller fraction of my memory and is probably why time feels like it moves faster as I get older.
For example: as a two-year-old, 50% of my life was only one year, but now at age seventeen, 50% of my life is almost nine years. I became increasingly aware of this happening in the background of my life as I got older. At first, it wasn’t a noticeable change - days would seem to pass by faster, then weeks, and suddenly I’m in the second semester of my junior year. Everything before this time slowly began to fade.
Sometimes I wonder if my mind subconsciously sorts through each experience I have, and discards the “irrelevant” details leaving only the significant parts. As a result, my memory becomes something that has holes where seemingly extraneous aspects once existed. I never really remember the big moments: my first steps, turning double digits, and driving a car for the first time. I remember the feeling of the sun on my back as I bent over to fix a sandcastle, the shadows of rain pattering on a tent, and the scent of warm laundry floating through my house. These moments are not necessarily important to me in an obvious way or defined as important by society. Instead, they are all snapshots of a few seconds where everything fell into place. I never know if I’m going to retain a moment until after the time has passed, which leads me to wonder if I am missing other memories of my life that I overlooked and will never get back. More than just the way an event played out, but also the emotions I felt and senses I was aware of at the time.
Once I became conscious of this dilemma, I desperately tried to capture everything I could. I have over 20 completed journals and more photographs than I can count, yet these are not enough to make me feel as though I am capturing every moment I can. Over the past few years, I realized it is impossible to know what will be significant while in the present or even hours later. I only really know when a moment holds importance months or years afterward, long after recording each detail of that time is possible. It’s often the most unexpected moments that stick with me, and the ones I would think to be important that don’t. I do not remember the first day of kindergarten or meeting my childhood best friend. I do remember learning to use an apple cutter and sharing secrets on a swing set. Without realizing it, I often stored the little moments in my memory instead of the milestone ones.
There are many gaps in my memory, even within a particular experience. I have a complete memory of the feeling as I rooted through my mother’s clothes when I missed her to find the softest sweater so I could be reminded of her smell, but I cannot remember where she was traveling to or for how long. I don’t recall how my first day went at Hopkins, but I do remember the smell of the library as I stepped into it as a student early freshman year. The parts of my life that resonate with me on a deep level are never the ones I assume would define my life, yet they are the ones no one else can describe for me. I can ask my mom where she was during that trip, but she’ll never be able to tell me the way it felt for me to hold back tears while falling asleep as I buried my face in her clothes. I can read my journal for the description of the first day of school, yet I would have never have thought to record a particular smell while writing that day. I suppose in a way it’s good that I save moments like those in my mind, but they still seem disconnected and not as important when considering the big picture.
I worry that I am not holding onto the essential memories and that instead of retaining key moments and milestones, I’m remembering the insignificant things. I fear that my life will just become a series of loosely organized checkpoints composed of irrelevant moments, making my past experiences a puzzle that will never be complete. However, once I separate each moment from this inflexible path - each instance becomes a delicate and valuable piece, part of an endless collection only I will ever intimately know.