What’s the first thing you remember? Do you wonder, Why do I remember that event, out of all the possible events in my early life?
In my first memory, I am in a strange bedroom with sleek, blonde furniture instead of the familiar, warm cherry bedroom set my parents own. I am standing on a chair looking out a picture window into a dark night sky. My mother is behind me, one palm warm against my back, her other hand set firmly on my hip so that I won’t fall. The sky suddenly explodes in bursts of color, like giant dandelions made of light, accompanied by deep popping noises in the distance. I begin jumping up and down on my chair, pointing, but my mother steadies me and I settle down, watching the dance of lights in a state of awe.
That’s it in its entirety. I don’t know how old I was, though I can guess, and I don’t where we were, though I can guess at that too. I have only this moment of vivid clarity framed by vague images and sounds. And yet, I also remember feeling safe and secure, not frightened, by the experience. That moment was the first time I remember feeling awe and wonder. In fact, it was such a profound moment for my little child self, that it has remained with me for over fifty years.
Why do some memories stay with us while others disappear in the sea foam of the past?
I believe that our memories—both positive and negative—are important, because they are associated with emotion and with profound moments of learning. And those moments embed themselves in our minds using emotion and sensory details. Uncovering and delving into memories, particularly those fragile, first ones can be enlightening. It can also be an important part of understanding how you formed your story of life—that is the story you tell yourself and others about your life, including where you’re from and who you’ve become.
This week’s journal writing prompts are designed to help you reveal more about these fragmented and elusive early memories:
- What is your earliest memory? Write a quick descriptive sketch of the event, describing everything you can remember, including who was with you, what happened, your feelings, responses of others, and any sensory details, such as shapes, colors, sounds, scents, and touch.
- What do you not know about this event? (Age, circumstances, place, etc.) Make some educated guesses that might fill in the blanks. Then list some possible ways to research the facts. For example, if older family members were present, you could ask them what they remember. Or family albums might reveal some of the facts.
- Why do you think you remember this particular event? In what ways did that experience affect your life or, more accurately, your perceptions of life?
- If you were to write your life story, would you include this memory? Why or why not?
- Close your eyes and, thinking back to that moment, try to expand your memory’s sensory awareness. What else was in the room or place? Were there other sounds or smells? What was happening in the periphery of the event? Open your eyes and write everything down, however “sketchy” it seems to be.
- Perform word association exercises with the emotions you associated with your memory. Using my first memory as an example, I would use the words awe, wonder, safety, and excitement.
- What is your second earliest memory? Repeat prompt #1 with this memory and then freewrite about how the two memories are related to one another.
Leave a comment—I would love to hear about your first memories and what you discovered by writing about them.