A colleague recently told me that a line in a previous post I wrote stood out to him. It was about how I enjoy reconnecting with the people who I have “joint custody with” over a set of memories. It made me laugh because when I wrote it, I surprised myself by how much it felt like the way I might have phrased something when I kept a regular blog years ago (the irony that the post itself was about exactly that). A few chapters in on this new journey and I’ve managed to channel the spirit of how I used to write, whether intentional or not.
I thought I’d explore this idea of shared experiences a little further, then something happened that perfectly encapsulated the sentiment.
For as long as I can remember I’ve felt quite strongly about Christmas tree decorations. I’d gladly pass on the whole event if the set up is perfectly matched, colour schemed items. This goes further than Christmas for me, this is about how I want to live my life. I don’t want a design or to have things all mapped out. I want a collection of moments, built up over time and displayed together in organised chaos. That’s our Christmas tree.
It starts with a saxophone cake topper I stole from my Nan and Grandad’s house and threaded string through to hang. It continues through a set of mini disco balls my brother bought me that I once pinned to the beams across the ceiling in my loft conversion bedroom, before adding to the tree in future years. Ten years ago Sam and I bought a 2010 dated bauble which represents not only our first Christmas together but is also from around the time of our first anniversary.
Amongst it all is a piece that I’ve had for at least 18 years, perhaps longer. It’s a cartoon stylised Mary and Jesus that a friend from school gave me off the back of an argument about the origins of Christmas. I was on a one man war against imposed religion at the time, born out of childhood naivety and deep rooted resentment about having to participate in hymn practice.
I have a good memory but I know it’s from this friend because there’s a handwritten message on the back of the decoration that told me to hang it every year. Which I have done, give or take a year between homes when my life was held up in boxes.
What dawned on me this year is that I’ve never told the person I’m still following those instructions nearly two decades later.
So, I decided to. We don’t talk all that often. The last time we spoke she kindly messaged me to say she’d listened to an episode of the podcast I make with my friend (and our mutual classmate) Ed. I sent a photograph of both sides of the decoration and a far more concise version of the story I just told in the first 500 words of this blog post.
“Oh my word” was the response. I might have said “Oh my God” personally, she didn’t, perhaps upholding some of her younger religious beliefs? I don’t know.
With the initial shock out of the way, what followed was a catch up of the usual pleasantries, how we are, what we’re up to, how this year has been, etc. I love this. I have mixed feelings about making small talk, but this isn’t that. This is checking in with the past. Being reminded of who we were, without being held to it.
It ended with a surprise for me to leave on. Her best friend from school has children, the eldest of them is now in year 9. This makes them the same age as we were when we met, not long before the Christmas she gave me the decoration that started our conversation.
I’m not sure if this reminded me how old I am now or made me realise how young I was then.
In this story, although I’m the custodian of a particular item, the weight of which is far more than the mass produced good that it is, the conversation last week is testament to our joint custody of the memories from that time in our lives. Until this year the knowledge of what became of the decoration was something I had sole ownership of. That could’ve continued to be the way. For whatever reason, it felt like it was the right time to share that additional page of the story too.