• Bill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 8/20/21 - Circling Back



This week, Julie and I ended up back in Bedford PA. This bucolic little town was the childhood home of her mother. Julie’s parents also lived there in retirement for many years. It is place we have been coming to for so many decades. Now, her father is gone, that retirement home sold, her mom in an older adult facility. Time creeps onward. Because of the pandemic, it has been quite a while since we had been here out here together. Bedford and the home her dad designed had been the home base for the whole Miller clan for over two decades.


This week, I got to thinking about all the times here in Bedford and how I often circle back in life to some of the same spaces. Some places offer a sense of permanence, even as time seems to change everything else. My first trip out to Bedford was in 1991, when Julie and I were dating. It felt like a huge journey across Pennsylvania. Her dad cautioned me to be extra careful driving because I had his daughter in the car. Precious cargo. He was a big guy who I found over time had incredible heart and passion for life, especially any time spent with his daughters. On that visit, we spent time with her grandfather. We drove around and explored the wonders of Bedford County PA. Including the Bedford Springs which at the time was abandoned and falling apart. It is now a fine hotel. A reminder that things broken can be put back together.


The area has been so much a part of our lives, this trip we drove past that home her dad built, a dream home he and my mother inlaw saved plans for since they had been a young couple. I remember when they broke ground on it in 1998. Her dad, who had managed much larger building projects oversaw this one with a little extra TLC. Twenty years later, on Christmas of 2019, the whole surviving clan gathered in that home one final time. Weather conditions created hoarfrost, where fog cools in the freezing air and forms little spiked crystals on all the surfaces outside. If I ever see it again, I will no doubt link it to that last holiday before that special house in Bedford was sold. So many wonderful times with the family in this place. Memory ties the town to all those times and the Miller clan.


Some people like to go to new places, never vacationing to the same area twice. Julie and I tend

to go back to the same locations we have visited earlier in life. One of these places is more special than all the others. Julie had spent a summer studying at the Glasgow School of Art before I met her. She decided to bring whoever she married back to the highlands of Scotland. She said yes to me, and I said yes to her. We honeymooned in the highlands and far north of Scotland. A land we have visited a number of times since our wedding day. At one of our stops on our honeymoon, we visited this old broch, Dun Trodden a two thousand year old defensive structure on the shores of Western Scotland. I recall standing on the remnants of the broch while a local crofter call to his Border Collie, named Billy. We last visited that spot in 2014. On that trip we ran into a crofter at that same spot with another Border Collie, perhaps sired by Billy. I hope to return there with my bride of 28 years again soon and perhaps to meet another Border Collie on that spot.


A few years back, I was driving by the elementary school I went to in Bethlehem PA. There was a construction crew working on it. On the spur of the moment, I stopped and went in. In the gym, I stood at the same spot I watched an astronaut walk on the moon in 1972. I can see that little kid in the middle of second grade in that far gone era experiencing history and knowing what was coming at him as his life unfolded. I know now he did ok despite everything.


There is a psychology of why humans like to go back to familiar places. It helps us reflect on how we have changed over time. As this Psychology Today article discusses, old memories are overlayed with new memories when we return to a place. The new memory creates a modified neural network or "engram" that incorporates the old with the new. When this is happening, there is a small window of time in which you can take inventory and evaluate how much you've changed since the last time you were there. This article explores why we revisit old homes and talks about how we like to establish connections to our past and at times may be a way to work out unfinished business in our own lives. As a student of history, I like to also think about who walked the ground I tread on before me and what occurred there. It helps me feel more connected to the places I go.


I tend to be a reflective person, even before I got in recovery, but certainly more so since. I tend to seek out just about any opportunity to look back, examine and evaluate where I am at and what has happened to get me here as I consider what my next steps may be. It seems the memories and places that stand out are ones during periods of my life when a whole lot of things were changing at a sudden pace. Like right now. Grateful I had the opportunity to change. Grateful to still be around so I can look back. Grateful I have the memories I do and the ability to look back at them and reflect on who and what I was and how time has changed me and consider what lies ahead.


Do you have cherished places in your own life journey? What are you grateful for today?

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