Friday, August 20, 2010

The Hat - A Memoir

Why is it that some long past, trivial events stand out in bold relief in our memories while more important matters sometimes fade into obscurity? I don’t know the answer. When youth left me so did most of the answers.  In mid-life I’m left only with examples to wonder about - like one golden, sunny day that I sat in a boat with my mother and father and a friend of theirs named Joe. I was a little thing - two and a half or three - according to my mother. It’s the absolute earliest memory that I can mine from the archives in my head.

I don’t remember preparing for that little voyage out in the bay, and I don’t remember coming home from it. But I do remember Joe’s hat. It went overboard at some point. I don’t know if he dropped it in the water or if the wind blew it off; but I can still see it clearly in the glistening water, moving rapidly away from us, getting smaller and smaller and smaller. I remember somebody remarked that it was gone.

I wasn’t greatly disturbed that Joe had lost his hat, but I knew that something remarkable had happened. The fact that Joe’s hat could be on his head one minute and gone forever the next was an amazing thing. But more amazing than that was the fact that retrieving that hat was completely beyond the ability of any one of those three grown-ups in the boat with me. They had been gods right up until the moment when Joe’s hat began to fade in the distance - gone forever. I don't remember being frightened by this event, but - as little as I was - I knew that it meant something.  I knew that it had somehow changed my life.

In telling this tale, I wonder if I’ve found an answer. Maybe these "trivial" events that establish themselves as permanent fixtures in our memories are not trivial at all. Maybe they are the only events that are important to our eternal selves - to that part of us that will never die. And just maybe some of the things that we think are so important don’t matter much after all.