I recently exchanged emails with someone I knew from a writers’ group several years ago. We’d had great fun sharing stories with a lively, imaginative circle of friends. Even the silliest stuff usually found an appreciative audience who understood it in the playful spirit it was intended. But after a while, we just got busy with other things and drifted away. We talked about how much we’d enjoyed the group and how we missed those days.
“Sometimes my husband asks if I’m ever going to get back into it,” my friend told me, “but I don’t know that it’s possible to recapture magic in a bottle.”
After the conversation ended, I thought about all the moments that we don’t fully appreciate until after they have gone by. We chase around after our kids when they’re young, and we feel exasperated because they’re so noisy and they make such a mess. Maybe we snap at them, “Grow up!”—and then they do, and we’re left looking at their empty places across the quiet dinner table.
Or we complain about trivial annoyances at work, even though it’s a pretty good job and we get along well with our coworkers. We let the small stuff get blown totally out of proportion, and we grumble about every careless or inconsiderate thing someone does. We fantasize about how much better a new job would be. But after we’ve moved on, we don’t remember the little annoyances; it’s the good times that stick in our minds.
Of course, we learn something every time our circumstances change. Our perspective broadens, and we become more resilient. Even though change is stressful, we’ve come to expect it, as creatures of our busy modern society. If we stayed in the same place doing the same things all our lives, as most of our ancestors did, we’d get bored and restless. Besides, we have much longer lives than our ancestors, so naturally we’re going to fill them with a greater variety of experiences.
The way I look at it, those magic-in-a-bottle moments aren’t really lost. They just get moved farther back on what I envision as a memory shelf, as present-day moments take their place. We write more stories and find other groups of readers who enjoy our creations. When our kids are grown, we still have conversations with them, even though they live somewhere else and we talk about different topics. Maybe we become grandparents, as more time passes. We find new jobs that challenge us to develop our skills in unforeseen ways, and after a while we discover that we’re pretty good at them.
Before we know it, we’ve built up a lovely collection of antique bottles sitting proudly on the imaginary polished hardwood of the memory shelf. They sparkle in different colors, glowing inside with fragments of the magic they once held. Here’s one that gleams softly in warm green-brown hues, holding memories of a beautiful summer morning at the river. There’s another, flickering a bright fiery yellow like the candles on a birthday cake. And look at that perfect red—it’s just the color of the roses around grandma’s porch, fragrant and humming with bees on a Sunday afternoon.
The magical moments we encounter in our daily lives can easily go unnoticed. We rush from one activity to another, worried about completing our tasks and staying on schedule. Often we don’t pause to be mindful of the dazzling sunlight coming through the window after a dark gray morning, the soft comfortable fabric of a new pair of blue jeans, or the affection in a loved one’s voice greeting us when we return from an errand. So many little details don’t find their way into our conscious awareness until many years later, when a scent or sound unexpectedly triggers a wonderful memory.
When we take the time to notice life’s small details as they unfold around us, we’re opening a door to invite the magic into the present.