Thoughts From Dr. Joe: Making the memories of life

I’ve kept journals since the eighth grade, recording memories that became treasures in the heart to pull out on the tough days of adulthood. I wrote my thoughts sparingly and only chose those aspects of life that were most impactful.

I took my journals to Vietnam, hoping to write a story of my evolution into the heart of darkness. Both dreams were destroyed in an 82mm mortar attack. Only one journal survived. It was hard to begin again, but I did. Everybody needs their memories. They keep the wolf of insignificance from knocking at your door.

By recording the salient moments of life I have learned that our existence is a compilation of memories. Whether good or bad, they exist and form our personal literature. We don’t remember days; we remember moments.

What we remember from childhood we remember forever as permanent ghosts — stamped, inked, imprinted and eternally seen. As I examine my life, I understand this, and as the leader of Girl Scout Troop 889, I’ve tried to craft experiences that will linger in the memories of the children. Some of our classrooms aren’t classrooms, you might say.

I want my girls to have a plethora of moments: modeling in a fashion show, enjoying afternoon tea, raising money for charity, presenting the American flag, reading interpretively at the Memorial Day commemoration and participating in Chumash rituals at Descanso Gardens.

Yet the pursuit of an experience for its own gratification is not entirely possible. The residuals of happenings are memories, and memories are what are left behind when something happens and doesn’t completely un-happen.

My troop has been backpacking in the mountains for four years. Each year I’ve tried to build on the previous year’s experience. Writer Wilfred Blevins tells us to “give our heart to the hawks” in order to capture the rapture of life. Subsequently I’ve always believed that some of our recollections should include going beyond the pavement.

For the ladies of 889, the alchemy of becoming young women is at hand; consequently, I want to leave them with something more than an intellectual understanding of wilderness. Last week the Scouts did a four-day backpacking trip into the high country of Yosemite National Park. As George Eliot wrote, “We could never have loved the earth so well if we had had no childhood in it.”

Why do we do it? Why do we embrace rain, hail, altitude, arduous hikes and freezing temperatures? Does it teach us anything? Do we learn determination, patience, invention, accuracy, tolerance and strength? Do we learn to rely on ourselves and realize that we are not small? We fill the sphere! We are part of all there is!

Nothing is more memorable than doing. As the girls transition into adult life, they will experience many momentary and fleeting occurrences that will conjure up childhood memories. Complex visions of the past leap out of the undergrowth. The Scouts will remember summiting at 10,000 feet and seeing the Ten Lakes Basin, how cold 24 degrees can feel, mountain thunder and hail, a delicious cup of Top Ramen and how good a Coke can taste after an arduous hike.

Emily and Kelly will remember spending Father’s Day with their dads in the high country of Yosemite. Suma and Meera will think of their mother leading the hike up the switchbacks. All the ladies of troop 889 will take a memory from experiential learning. Those memories will resurface, and the girls will smile. Isn’t that the essence of life?

One day, I hope the girls will tell their children about me smoking backwoods cigars around a smoky campfire and telling stories of Lewis and Clark.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at doctorjoe@ymail.com.

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