The Ones Within
I remember sitting with my grandfather and grandmother when my sister and I spent Saturday nights at their home. My grandparents were kind to us and I loved being with them. Sixty-five years later I hold these memories dear. The elderly seem solid and stable. I am elderly now and I know that is not true.
It is easy to think that people are solid and stable, like granite, when in fact we are far more fluid and variable; like molten lava. It is highly probable that friends see me as a one-self being: “I am Becky day in and out.” In fact, I am a vastly more complex, fluid, and multi-self person.
A child looks at an older person and does not realize that that person “houses” young “children” inside of them. Now that I am a grandmother I clearly see how complex it is to be human.
I have memories as young Becky that bring confusion and hurt if I allow myself the time to remember and listen to them. It doesn’t matter that the events happened more than sixty years ago. Inside of me are young parts that still feel frightened and unheard.
There are other memories that fill me with so much wonder that I tremble. Some mornings I smell a privet hedge on a walk with my husband and it brings back my childhood when I smelled summer and watched thousands of lightning bugs illuminate the vast fields near my home.
We often think of a memory as a mental picture or clip that plays in our brain for a few seconds. It seems no different than an internal version of watching the evening news. In fact, the memory is registering a complex set of neurons that holds millions of complex associations related to being the person who remembers.
Scientist Marvin Minsky, a pioneer in artificial intelligence wrote: “It makes sense to think there exists, inside your brain, a society of different minds. Like members of a family, the different minds can work together to help each other, each still having its own mental experiences that the others never know about.”
It is why when I smell privet on a walk, I am sixty-eight years old in conversation with my husband and a rambunctious eight-year old about to go swimming at the Jones Junior High pool with my best friend Julie. I anticipate a nickel that allows me to purchase a “Semi-sweet Hershey’s” chocolate bar. I remember the gusto that it took for a fifty-five pound, chlorine saturated shivering frozen girl to eat a bitter bar of chocolate in order to frolic in frigid water for a couple more hours without any parental watchfulness.
I have learned to tamp down the part of me that is jumping up and down to get into the pool and feel the first cool splash of water. Occasionally the wild little girl breaks out and I am conditioned by tens of thousands of life experiences to keep her childlike passion under wraps.
The cost of being an adult, for most of us, is shunning the various selves that exist within us.
Bessel van der Kolk reminds us, “How well we get along with ourselves depends largely on our internal leadership skills.” Do we listen to our younger selves with intrigue and kindness? Or do we shun and ignore what seems, at times, odd and downright scary?
The mystery of being a person needs to be acknowledged in the complex intersection of the selves that play within us. I was parented in a family that adhered to the dictum: “We raise them tough.” There was such pride in my father when I refused to cry and when I set out on adventures that exceeded my capacity. There is no question his north star was don’t let your kids be weak.
There is a rough and tumble little girl in me that is water and sun-soaked, sneaky, and fun. There is also a timid little girl who needs the comfort of privet to replenish the empty parts that are lonely and scared.
“Comfort, comfort my people” is the promise Isaiah offers in the coming of the Messiah. I am his people. I house his people. We are the sheep of his pasture and the chicks he covers with his wings. If I can be people, sheep, chicks, then I can at least be the little one about to dive off the side of the pool into the air after finishing the sweet chocolate of summer.