I was driving my kids to a weekend at the beach, my car was filled with four boys. It was pretty late on a Friday night and we were almost there. That last stretch of road is pretty dark, a two lane Texas highway without a lot of activity except the occasional condo or beach house and a lot of travelers all headed to the same place. The kids were quiet (finally) and music was playing and I was feeling good…relieved to have almost made it to my destination after a long workday, hours spent packing and a nearly three hour drive.
And there it was.
The color of my favorite dog. My Evaleen.
I saw it maybe 1 second before the impact. But it hit, hard. And then it was gone.
My entire body reacted to it. I drove about 5 more seconds before I really understood what had happened and then I pulled over, got out of the car, looked under the car. Did I actually think it was still under the car somehow? What was I looking for?
I started to shake and cry a little. The kids pounded me with questions.
“Are you ok?”
“Did we hit something?”
I responded, “yes, I think we hit a dog” and I really started to cry now. I got back in the car and drove back.
Is that what you do? Do you drive back and search? We hit that dog, or whatever it was (because by now my brain was talking me into believing it hadn’t been a dog, I didn’t want it to be a dog, I wanted it to be something else, something less loved and cherished, something wild or rabid) we hit that dog hard. It couldn’t have survived.
I drove back and looked. But I didn’t get out of the car. It was very late. On a very dark stretch of highway, with cars coming along fast. I looked. I saw nothing.
So I turned around again and continued on my journey.
But the heavy feeling, the “I killed a dog” feeling didn’t leave me.
I carried it along, to the condo, as we unpacked the car, as we waited for the other car to arrive and got all nine kids settled.
Yes, I take 9 kids to the beach alone. I am crazy like that. 5 of them are practically grown ups. Anyway.
So, alone…I sat on a bench outside the condo drinking my wine and thinking about that dog.
But as I sat there I realized it wasn’t just that dog I was thinking about, I was also thinking about another dog I had hit, years and years earlier. In 1988. Another Spring Break. My senior year in high school. We had travelled to Arkansas to go camping. The trip had been somewhat of a disaster. Seven teenagers camping without an adult to remind them to pack things like enough food or proper equipment. But we had a ridiculously good time. As only teens can do. We danced in the rain, we fought, we laughed, we got drunk and slept outside under the moon. We were all filthy when we hit the road that night, covered in mud and bug bites and stinking of campfire. My car was filled with four boys.
Notice the similarity here? Spring Break? Four Boys?
That dog was black. And I was the only one awake. Again, I was the only one who saw what happened. I turned around that time too. Again, I saw nothing. I never found the dog.
As I sat there thinking about that dog, in the year 2015, I was steeped in memories of the other dog and of that trip and of that time in my life and I was back into my 17 year old body and I was feeling things and thinking about things I hadn’t thought of in years and years. I was overwhelmed with memory and thought and emotion. I was feeling the pain and the pleasure of a time in my life that had been gone for almost thirty years.
And it occurred to me, and here is the point of this blog…
Circumstances can trigger an association with something completely unrelated that bring you right back to another time, to another experience that is related but yet not related. Sometimes we realize it and sometimes we don’t.
And it occurred to be me how much conflict is caused by these associations.
Your partner says or does something that triggers something that happened previously and you react with that previous experience in mind. You respond to an innocent set of words or actions with a body of memory that have nothing to do with what’s happening in the moment.
Something completely unrelated. You respond to your partner or friend or boss or a complete stranger through the filter of another association, you punish them for something they were never a part of.
God, we do that lot.
It makes complete sense. But I think we have to stop doing it.
I think it gets in the way of love.
I suspect that a big part of our journey in life is to stop doing that. To become aware of the present moment so clearly that old associations aren’t allowed to cloud it.
I am suddenly hyper aware of these associations since that night. I am aware of how much they infect today with yesterday.
I recognize the danger in them.
How they steal our joy.
I want every tiny bit of joy I can get.
I don’t want to give any of it away to the past anymore.