The weekend before last a dear friend and I went to CityFest in San Diego. It had been years since we had gone, and our fond memories led us to do it again. Our memories were better than reality. The festival itself seemed to us to have evolved into commercial mediocrity, but we enjoyed each other’s company, and we saw lots of other people we know. On the long walk back to the car, I looked ahead and saw a crumpled piece of paper on the ground. As we got closer, I realized it wasn’t trash; it was a $5 bill!
I am constantly amazed at the power of physical objects to bring us back in time. Suddenly my mind jumped back 9 years to when I was living in England. I had just returned from a wonderful trip to Spain, which had been both relaxing and life changing (expect a blog post about this later!). Needing to restock my provisions after nearly a week away, I walked to the grocery store. When I reached the front of the line, I discovered that the money I’d put in my pocket before heading out wasn’t there. I bought what I could with the emergency funds I kept in my coat, and I diligently searched the snow along the path I took the whole way home, looking for the missing money, thinking it must have fallen out at some point. Fruitless. I could feel the stress of losing my week’s grocery budget about to jade my trip memories.
I realized it was happening, and I actively stopped it. In my counselling skills and theory class I was taking to maintain my British Student Entry Clearance, I had learned about the concept of reframing.
When I first heard of the idea, I immediately thought back to Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl’s amazing work about the psychological school of thought he developed while being held in the concentration camps. His concept was that while we often cannot change our situation, we can change our reaction to it.
The trick for a successful reframing is that the proposed new perspective must truly resonate. Just any new viewpoint doesn’t work. It has to be genuine to the person going through the process.
I sat there in my really cold attic studio flat and let my mind wander to find the right solution. Within a few minutes I felt better, my shoulders had relaxed, and the joy of my Spain trip was restored. I had remembered a time when I found a ten pound note in the street. Those £10 made such a huge difference in my quality of life. I hoped that whomever found my money really needed and appreciated it. That was the perfect reframing.
While all that remembering only took a fraction of a second (isn’t it amazing the short-hand our brains use?), it has stuck with me for a week now, and I had to share it. I guess objects aren’t the best time machines – part of you gets left in the past with each visit.