Memories are strange in nature. Two individuals can live through the same situation, and remember it differently. There have been many circumstances and situations that my siblings and I lived through, yet we see them differently, or sometimes not at all.
For instance: About a year ago my oldest brother, Mitch, and I were talking about the years we lived in Bandon, Oregon. We talked about the houses, the property they were on, and memories we each had concerning the properties.
It was during this conversation I brought up the “gorse incident.”
My brother had no idea what I was talking about. Yet, I remembered it because it impacted my life for the better part of 45 years.
When I was 4 years old, the house we lived in, on Beach Loop Road, was surrounded by gorse. Gorse is not native to Oregon. It is a sub-family, thorny evergreen plant, of the Scotch Broom family. Bandon’s family father, Lord George Bennett, who was originally from Bandon, Ireland, introduced it to the area around 1873. Gorse, if not controlled, will grow wild, become incredible thick and oily, and it can become a serious fire hazard. 1914 and 1936 testify to this fact. Both those years, Bandon almost completely burned down due to not controlling the gorse.
I have two older brothers. One brother is two years older than I am, and the other brother, Mitch, is four years older. As a child, I loved tagging behind them, but like older siblings they found me to be a bother, and a nuisance. When they saw me coming they would generally run away.
Their favorite escape route was the gorse. There were areas that a small child could crawl into and find a “hidden cave,” a space just tall enough for a child to stand up in, and hide. Yet, not only did small children like the gorse, so did garter snakes.
Many times a garter snake nest was stumbled upon while crawling in the gorse. For the most part, we avoided them and they avoided us.
One day however, that changed.
The boys were trying to lose me, yet again, because I was “bothering” them. They disappeared into the gorse. I followed them. As I was reaching one of the caves, my oldest brother jumped out and yelled boo! (Thank you very much Mitch!)
I fell backwards and landed right in the middle of a snake nest.
As a four-year-old, with all those snakes slithering on me I was terrified! In my eyes, they were the size of anacondas. I crawled out and ran to my mom crying uncontrollably. The boys were punished, but that did not help my fear.
That childlike fear followed me into adulthood. During our first several years of living where I live now, I panicked when I saw a snake. Even when I was on the riding lawn mower if I saw one I would lift my feet and yell “WHOA.” My children would laugh and know what part of the yard I was in based on how far away the yell was.
I knew my fear of snakes was unreasonable, but I did not know how to change it. I eventually decided to share this “struggle” with my brother Mitch. After all, it was his fault, right?
He did not remember scaring me as a child. He did not remember ever seeing snake nests in the gorse, and he kind of remembered crawling around in the gorse, but that did not happen often, as he remembered.
Was my memory skewed? Probably, it is hard to say. After all, I was only 4.
Yet, as I shared the struggle with him, he listened, and he was patient. When I was done he said,
“Sis, you are afraid of the snakes because you are looking at them all wrong. Stop looking at the snakes through the eyes of a scared 4-year-old child. Look at them through the eyes of a rational adult. That is the only way you are going to be able to get rid of this fear. Do you understand?”
I did understand, and I knew he was right. It was time to change my view, and develop a plan of action. I started “the process” with a small decision. When I mowed, I consciously chose not to raise my feet and yell. Within one summer my unreasonable fear of snakes dwindled, and within a couple of summers it was gone.
Isn’t it amazing how one memory can impact a life for so long? Even more amazing is the fact that the memory, and what actually happened, may be completely on opposite ends of the reality spectrum.
Whether that memory was accurate or not, is no longer important. What is important is that, that memory does not have power over me anymore.
A couple of days ago I was given an opportunity to see that growth.
I was walking in my yard. Surveying and taking notes of the projects that needed to be done, when an approximate 12-inch garter snake, black with a yellow strip down its back, slithered out from the tall grass. I didn’t see it coming. It stopped on my right foot, and I was wearing sandals at the time! There was no screaming, or gasping for air. I simply looked down and told it to move. It slithered away and I walked back to my porch.
As I was walking away I thought about my response, and the response I use to have, and to be honest I was excited. At that point I realized, an epiphany in a way, that it is never to late to battle fear and win.
Now tell me, does life get any better than this?