I have a tree in my front yard that has become taller than any other. It is a Chinese Redwood given to me by my father as only a sapling in honor of our shared love and wonder about the mystifying nature of a Redwood grove.
It is hard to miss. But, there are times that I notice days have gone by when I have no conscious awareness of its existence. Other times, just the shadow of a limb causes me to feel a flood of love and loss. Memories long forgotten often emerge.
Even without the smell or taste, I know it is my Madeline.
I often think, when I work with people who are in crisis, what dwells within them to soothe — to unexpectedly unlock a recollection of times of comfort that can be used in the present to soften the shell of pain.
It was Proust’s feelings about the Madeline and what it meant to him, rather than the absolute truth of his memory, that allowed a point in time to be re- lived as a recollection and filled him with an “all-powerful joy.”
Often we err in thinking that the memory of the past is the absolute truth. In so doing, we can fixate on our narrative as the only “right” one. If we could expand our perspective to include the possibility that our memory is fallible and that we might recall the facts to fit our story, then we can leave space for the possibility that in sharing our memory (which may be different than what actually happened), there is a path to understanding what matters to us.
It is with that in mind that I listen.
No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shiver ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory; it was me. Had ceased to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. .Whence could it have come yo me , this all-powerful joy?
…And suddenly the memory revealed itself.
Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past