Feb 11, 2022 • 5M

The Shape of our Lives

A short journey into memories

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Appears in this episode

Alice Elgie
🍂 Simplify | (Re)connect | Breathe 🍂 Conversation about nature, writing life, child-led learning, crafts, yoga and mindfulness, life and death, and much much more — all with a good dash of slow: slow for the environment, slow for community, and most importantly slow for ourselves.
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“I can still smell Japan,” I tell my daughter. Closing my eyes for a moment I lose myself in the fragrant gardens and aromas of sticky noodles and plum liqueur. I hear the incessant beeping of traffic crossings and feel my heart jittering at the onslaught of new sensations. “Twenty-three years on and it’s as real to me now as it was then,” I say, as we share steaming bowls of rice, laughing at how—in the absence of vegetables—we only have toasted seeds to sprinkle on top. “In Japan, my neighbour would bring me bowls of plain rice for breakfast—perhaps with only a little daikon chopped in—warmly wrapped in a tea towel.” My daughter listens to my stories with interest. “I want to go to Japan. It sounds like it was such a life-changing experience for you.”

And it was. It shaped me. 


I’m staying with my dad and, as always happens when we are together, I am surrounded by scraps of paper. He shares stories—when he’s in the mood—and I find myself desperate to capture each and every morsel. “If I don’t get them down quick enough they’ll be gone,” I tell myself. And so I write feverishly until my hand aches; of his job on a farm, the first girl he kissed, a trip to Blackpool, “Ey up, has Joe Griffin won the pools?” When I get home I know I will find more scraps of paper scattered around me and I’ll go through the same process of “where should I keep this?” Notes slipped inside books, torn paper pieces folded together. 


Sitting beneath the artificial lights of my storage unit, perched next to a box of photos—a box that reflects my years on earth—I search frantically through each packet. I pull photo after endless photo out, of me and my niece together. Me, a proud eleven-year-old gently cradling this new life. Her eight-year-old face laughing as we spin around the dance floor. Me hugging her, so tenderly, as she walked through the teenage years with trepidation and confusion. I wanted to be the best big sister (circumstances meant she always felt more than a niece), and in this moment, I know that I was. Tears prick my eyes and my heart aches as the pain I feel for losing her is validated in the memories spilling forth. 


And that is what joins these fragmented paragraphs; our fragmented lives. We are brought together—both individually and collectively—by memories. 

Once we die, they die with us. I recognised this after my mum died. I have many of her belongings on my boat, interspersed into my life. Plants, kitchen utensils, books, a small oak coffee table. I place my cup of tea down and it is not the table itself that brings me closer to mum, but the memory of the whiskeys we shared across it on a Saturday night while watching Casualty. The excitement of this ritual, as we sniggered and giggled like children (until the programme kicked in of course!), at the delight of indulging in an expensive dram.

And so I keep writing. I know I have to hold onto it all. I have to climb deep into the memories of who I was in Japan so that my daughter can know me, not just as her home-educating, nature-loving mother, but as the vast and varied person I have been; and will continue to become.

My dad is a complex man and there are many things unsaid, but when he goes one day, I know it will be only his stories I think of. Because I have come to know that in the face of death we forget about the pain, hurt, resentment. We remember only the good and glorious.

And my niece… Out of the darkness comes lightness, in the bond I know we shared from the memories created. 

This is what we—all of us—will be remembered for. 

These are the stories of our lives.

And so I write. I write and write and write. To make sense of myself, my relationships and, in turn, to lay the foundations for my daughter for a life well lived. 

Our bowls rest empty on the table as we set about choosing an audio book, pulling our sewing baskets out and stoking the fire. She stands and runs to grab food as the swan clanks his beak on the window. We laugh at the tenacity of this majestic bird and as I sit, shafts of sunlight falling across my boat and our faces, I know we are making more memories that will form the shape of our lives.