To me, the best stories don’t need he be researched. The best stories are sourced entirely from the wonderful flow of thoughts, feelings, and experiences that is your memory. The stories that move and excite, the ones that evoke tears, or happiness, or joy, are born from the most impactful moments. They are a beautiful, elegant tribute to something that has long since left your calendar but will never leave the fondest place in your mind.
My theory is that these memories and potential stories are created in your head so that, as the years roll by and friendships, school, and an overbearing, back-wrenching feeling of pressure and stress nearly swallows you whole, you’re left to remember a simpler, happier time, a time where nothing mattered but the breathtaking beauty of a sunset or the calming sound of the waves kissing a seashore.
Although many memories come to mind when I think of such a carefree time, the one that sticks out is neither extravagant nor especially monumental. It sticks out simply because it will hold true as a reminder of the importance of every single moment of every day that you are blessed with in this big, beautiful world, because life has a way of robbing you of happiness before you can appreciate what happiness is.
So when that happens, my mind wanders to a small, seemingly insignificant playground, one that you’d drive by without paying it a second glance. The playground is nothing more than a modest square of mulch erected out of the dry, tired patches of grass in a little clearing tucked behind the street that marked my grandmother’s neighborhood. It consists of an ancient, creaky swing set dappled with rust from years of New York’s unforgiving winters, a set of equally old monkey bars, and a few dilapidated slides and climbing walls.
It wasn’t extravagant by any means, but it was certainly good enough for the little girl that would come every Sunday with her dad during a long visit with at Grandma’s house. Her dad would lift her up and set her gently in the soft metal of that swing, thrusting her back and forth through the air as she giggled. After a few minutes, her father would stop the swing and lift her out, holding her high up into the air and watch her smile a deep, bright smile. Despite her small figure and young age, she had a heart as big as the expansive, sapphire sky that stretched out above them, and she knew that it grew every time they visited that old, rusted playground, her heart would grow to fit all of the beautiful things the world had to offer inside of it.
When they’d tire of swinging or running underneath slides and slipping on wet mulch, they’d take the short walk down to the beach that sat just below the playground. Beach was a overstatement, really, it was more like a sandy outcropping that protruded awkwardly from a small cliff at the edge of the clearing, but it was enough for them to have fun. They’d spend hours and hours overturning the driftwood that lay scattered amongst the grains of sand, molded by the ocean water, staring fondly at the crystal blue water that stretched its long fingers to the shore. One time, looking out at the waves of Lake Ontario, the little girl asked her dad,
“What’s on the other side of the lake, daddy?”
“Canada,” he replied.
“What’s Canada?” she asked.
“One of the wonderful places that you’ll explore as you grow up,” he responded. He had always told her, with all the enthusiasm in his heart, that she would grow up to have so many big, exciting adventures, and that all she had to do was keep her eyes open and seek opportunity.
And in that moment, staring out at the massive sky that chases the water all they way to the horizon, her hand folded in her father’s, and she knew that this would become a memory. And was it really a surprise? That little clearing with the creaky old swing set that rested on a bed of wet mulch and the little beach covered with driftwood from years and years of churning water and a horizon that stretched out as far as the eye could see contained so many of her family’s fondest moments.
In fact, it was underneath a tree that was perched above the little beach that a young, newly wedded couple sat--a couple that would eventually be mom and dad to the little girl that frequented this playground. I can imagine them, stretched out in the generous shade of that large, sprawling oak, gazing at the pristine lake water and talking fondly about their past, excitedly about their future, and passionately about everything in between.
It was under that very tree that they planned everything that they had always dreamed to do--have children and buy a nice little house in the suburbs where they can raise their kids and grow old in happiness and comfort. It was a plan that would be fulfilled as time stretched on, but it was only a desire--one of many--that was discussed by a young, ambitious couple that sat comfortably in the shade of a great oak tree, their arms wrapped around each other as they watched the waves roll in from Canada.
The years flew by, and children were born, a beautiful house in the suburbs was purchased, and life sped by before the couple’s eyes. Then, unavoidably, after years of taking both children up to their grandmother’s house to enjoy the sea breeze in their face as they were sent flying through the air, sitting comfortably in the metal of the old swing set, or as they searched the beach, sand seeping in between their toes, staring fondly at the beautiful lake stretched out in front of them, their grandmother died of old age.
People wept, minds changed, and the house near the little playground and the driftwood-filled beach was sold. Their Sunday trips to their grandmother’s house ended abruptly, and the playground was left to rot, longing for someone else to take his daughter there on his shoulders and place her in the soft metal of the swingset, or set her loose among the tickling grains of sand on the beach. But no one came. As fall turned to winter and snow began to leave another layer of rust on the playground equipment, the little girl grew. She grew and grew and grew until she was too old to have her father take her to a playground and push her in a swing. Life is harsh that way, kids grow, playgrounds rot. Mindsets change.
But the sad little playground was not completely forgotten, as one day, many years later when the little girl and her brother were encompassed by the troubles of teenagerhood, they took a bike trip with their father, back up to their grandmother’s house. While there, the girl remembered the little playground, and she had a flashback to her younger self, laughing hysterically in the small swing, her face framed by small golden curls, and her heart full of loving, beautiful memories.
“Dad,” she said. “Can we stop at the playground--the one with the rusty swing set that we used to visit?” Her dad, remembering too the fond memories that were made there, agreed. And so, the three cyclists made their way to the abandoned little playground with the creaky swing set and the playground full of mulch and the beach overlooking the expansive Lake Ontario.
Stopping, the girl leaned against her bicycle and took a moment to drink in the impact of what she was staring at; the weight that that clearing had. She saw everything unfolding around her, a little girl running through the climbing walls and aging slides, tripping on the uneven ground, laughing, and getting up to run again. She saw a young couple, sitting comfortably under the massive oak above the beach, staring out dreamily at the breathtaking tapestry of sapphire blue that was the lake and sky at that moment.
She saw a happy family of four lay out a picnic blanket under that tree and snack on sandwiches and watch the waves kiss the sand over and over as they told each other how lucky they were to have a healthy, loving family and another beautiful day on this equally beautiful planet. And as the girl reminisced on these heartfelt memories, she remembered again how simple her life had been. Simple, yet completely, utterly perfect.
A life devoid of pain, stress, and any form of worry that could come her way. And in that moment, she was reminded of the incredibly ability of a memory to unlock a simpler and more beautiful world, one that hasn’t been muddied by the troubles of everyday life. And in that moment, she was finally content, as content as the little girl who had watched the waves rush past the horizon on their long, peaceful journey to Canada.