It was a glorious spring morning. Bright sunshine, a cloudless sky, temperatures quickly rising from sweatshirt to shirtsleeve levels, and a glassy and shimmering sea. As I walked the nearly empty beach before breakfast, I flashed to images from those beautiful days 10 to 15 years ago when my wife Krista and I would walk and frolic in the ocean waters on the unspoiled island of Ocracoke on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
Vivid details played out in my inner viewfinder. Riding our boogie boards like kids before the midday heat drove us to our becah house for siesta time. Planting our beach chairs in the wet sand close enough to have the last remnants of a wave cover our legs. Keeping a vigilant eye for dolphins. Watching young children build sand castles as we visualized our own anticipated parenting days ahead.
In that moment of reflection, I could have chosen from among five or more specific stories of those past vacations in Ocracoke. And most would have featured memories I didn’t know I could access.
That’s what happens when you revisit one of your favorite places from your past. It doesn’t matter how far into the past those previous scenes played out. When we write our life story, sometimes we limit ourselves by thinking that it is only our childhood that we need to revisit to rekindle memories worth savoring and capturing in our memoir or autobiography. The truth is, those memories are just waiting to be discovered in countless places we have known at any juncture of our lives: childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, our 30’s and 40’s, midlife, or even just a few years ago.
I teach classes on Writing Your Life Story at OLLI at UVA in Charlottesville, Virginia. I always urge my life-writing students to take inventory of those places that have meant the most to them, and to look for triggers (photos, personal possessions, memorabilia, etc.) that can escort them back to that place and the stories that reside in them. But sometimes the best way to connect with the places of our past is just to go back to them. See them, feel them, touch them. Write about them.
These places of interest extend well beyond where we have lived. I’ve probably spent no more than 40 days and 40 nights in Ocracoke, and yet I have stories that spring from those days and nights that may be more rich than memories related to places I lived in for years. Ocracoke is different in its small-town charm and slow pace. It stands out in its contrast to day-to-day living. And it left an indelible impression on me.
Do you have a favorite place waiting to be rediscovered? Can you go back there and invite the memories to pour through your veins…soon?
– Kevin Quirk, a memoir and autobiography ghostwriter and teacher, is the author of “Your Life Is a Book – And It’s Time to Write It! An A-to-Z Guide to Help Anyone Write Their Life Story.”