If aging is dying in slow motion, and if it’s true that we see our lives flash before our eyes when we die, that would explain it.

I wonder if anyone else experiences this phenomenon. At random moments, while doing mundane tasks—brushing my teeth, washing dishes, driving—I have tiny flashes of memory seemingly from nowhere.

Some are triggered by the same activities over and over: for a while, whenever I flossed my teeth I briefly remembered scenes from Annie Proulx’s book “The Shipping News.” Even now, when I trim my bangs I’m back on the Savannah River Walk, which I visited for maybe 20 minutes on a steamy July day in 2005. Another that occurred for quite a long time was a little lunch place on Independence Avenue in Washington, D.C., where we ate on a trip in 1998 that came into my mind during choir practice. I can see no connection between the trigger and the memory, and most of the places have no significance or special memories attached to them.

Savannah River Walk

The other odd thing is that they’re not necessarily real memories. Some are scenes from movies or books; sometimes they’re dimly remembered dreams; others are so vague it’s hard to say if they’re real memories or not—like apartments we looked at when my first husband and I were moving back to the Cleveland area after he got out of the Navy; a street I once rode down in Richmond, Virginia, where I visited once in my twenties; or someplace in upstate New York where I vacationed with my parents when I was 16.

It’s like my brain is leaking out all this stuff to make me take notice. And what happens is that when one of these occurs I start doing it consciously—letting my mind roam through its vast repository of places and events, taking me from Yellowstone Park to the Thames Embankment to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis; from Trafalgar Square to the National Mall to the Golden Gate Bridge. Or I revisit the beaches I’ve enjoyed: cold and briny North Sea beaches at Clacton, Great Yarmouth and Redcar; Huron and Cedar Point, on Lake Erie, where I hung out through my teens; Virginia Beach; Long Island Sound, when I lived in Connecticut; beautiful Coronado Beach in California; Eleuthera in the Bahamas; St. Croix in the U.S. Virgins; Miami Beach; Bethany Beach, Delaware, my kids’ first beach; Kailuum, in Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula;  Flagler, known as “Florida’s Peaceful Beach”;

One of my favorite beaches

beaches on Kauai, including Poipu, Ha’ena S.P and Polihale S.P.; Coquille Beach in Abel Tasman National Park and Greymouth beach, with its beautiful gray stones, in New Zealand; the Texas coast’s Mustang Island, Corpus Christi, South Padre, Port Aransas and Rockport. I think English people, being islanders, have salt water in their veins and are drawn to the sea.

Abel Tasman National Park, NZ

Maybe these flashes are poems I need to write.

I would love to know if anyone else experiences anything like this or if I just have an extremely wandering mind.


2 responses to “Flashbacks”

  1. stardate062594 says :

    I love this post, Jill; well, I love all of them, but this one definitely spoke to me. My brain does this, too, and it reminds me that the incredible advancement in scientific knowledge we have about how our brains work has also revealed how much we still don’t undertsand. How interesting it is that we speak of our brains as entities separate from ourselves, which I suppose is a side-effect of being aware of and able to think about our own thought processes and emotional reactions; metacognition has always fascinated me. If you’ve never read Temple Grandin, I highly recommend Animals in Translation and Thinking in Pictures. She is such a gifted, beautiful person; I love the way she sees the world.

  2. Jill Wiggins says :

    I haven’t read her, but I saw the movie with Clare Danes, and it was fascinating. Temple Grandin is a remarkable person.

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