Reconnecting With My Past

Pike Place Market in Seattle circa 1988

Pike Place Market in Seattle circa 1988

Next week I fly to Seattle to visit a longtime friend. I’m looking forward to seeing both her and the Emerald City. Surrounded by two mountain ranges and boasting thousands of acres of parks within the city, it is truly the gem of the West. This is also a chance for me to reconnect with my past. I’m not talking about glory days or living in the past. I’m talking about a short visit to a place where I have emotional attachment.

I lived in Seattle for six years in the late eighties, leaving the city, my job and dragging my family back to our previous home because living in the West never felt right to me or to Martin. At the time, several people told me, “You can’t go back. It won’t be the way you remembered it.”

But, something was missing. Seattle never felt like “home”. Part of it was geographical. Having grown up on the New Jersey Shore, watching the sun rise over the Atlantic, my inner compass felt out of sync watching the sun set beyond Puget Sound to the west. And, nine months of cloud cover with the Emerald City shrouded in a wet mist, the only glimpse of the sun as it set over the Olympic Mountains, was beyond my mental fortitude. While on one hand, I loved the rhythm of the city, I also eschewed the long commute, heavy traffic and constant noise. Moving closer to my roots would also put extended family into closer proximity.

My daughters on the Olympic Peninsula

My daughters on the Olympic Peninsula

So, we pulled up our stakes and left. No, as people told us, it wasn’t the way we remembered it. It was different. We grew and prospered and grew some more. We also moved again to South Carolina. We created the life we craved. No place I have ever lived, including my New Jersey cradle, has felt more like home than the South. When we left Seattle, we weren’t going back to reclaim the past; we were going back to claim a different future.

My trip to Seattle is purposed with a visit to reconnect with my friend and hopefully some others as well as to remember and honor my life there. Not only is my past in Seattle part of my personal identity, it was central to my learning what was important to me in life.

In retirement, after years of following the corporate money trail, people sometimes return to the place where they grew up. I know several who returned to South Carolina after years of living someplace else and many who left this locale to return to their roots. The emotional pull of a childhood home is powerful. The smells, the sights, the sounds, old friends and family are not just remnants of the past. They are the very fabric from which we are made. I feel the same way about my life in Seattle. It was an important part of my life’s journey thus far.

When we return to a past home, we don’t just revisit the past. We reconnect emotionally with a part of our identity, which lies at the core of our authenticity. Based upon what I know about my own struggles with creating a retirement identity, reviving your youthful selfhood with all its trappings may help with the transition. I’m not recommending that everyone move back to their childhood home or any home they loved in the past. For some, like myself, it’s not a practical or desired option. But, a visit, whether real or imagined, may prove helpful.

I visited my childhood home in 2008 when my mother passed away. Her memorial service was held in New Jersey providing the perfect time to reflect on both her life and mine. My childhood home was much the same as I remembered. There was yet another addition. The hedge my father faithfully clipped was gone. Yet, it looked much the same. My hometown was burgeoning, empty fields now held other homes, the highway filled with businesses. It was the type of busy, bustling place I steered clear of as a choice for my home.

While I wouldn’t go back, the visit reminded me of who I am at my core. The schools I attended, the beaches and boardwalk where I whiled away summer hours, worked my first job and dreamed of who I would become. The places I played with friends, the streets I walked selling Girl Scout cookies. Wreck Pond where I learned to ice skate. The smell of salt air and sea gulls gliding above the washed sand looking for a tasty snack. And, of course, the sun rising over the Atlantic.

Me in my Seattle office circa 1989

Me in my Seattle office circa 1989

My visit to Seattle may well accomplish the same thing. While I loved the city and look forward to my visit, I am also reminded of why I left. I am reminded of my present identity, created by me for me, fashioned to replace my work identity left behind when I retired. Yet, this identity is more authentic than any I have ever claimed. It is not only a reflection of my past, but my hope for the future as I live in the present. I am going back to Seattle, not to reconnect with the past, but to reconnect with myself. And I will.

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11 comments on “Reconnecting With My Past

  1. Oh, I love this! Especially your sentence “The smells, the sights, the sounds, old friends and family are not just remnants of the past; they are the very fabric from which we are made.” Wow.

    I had occasion this month to be pulled back into my past by way of a long-ago friend contacting me through Facebook. Although it’s been fun to reminisce, I find myself eager to let go of all of that at this point, and return to my joyful who-I-am-now existence.

    I hear ya, Kathy.

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  2. Hi Kathy,
    Your posts always seem to be so appropiate to a situation that I’m experiencing. Just came “home” for my son’s wedding on Saturday. I was brought up in this region and so were my children, so my son wished to marry here. So many memories emerged and, like you so eloquently described, I felt how my past by this gorgeous lake and the nearby seashore had contributed to my artistic and contemplative side. These roots have shaped me and sustained me. Not sure yet what the future holds for my newly retired self, if I will return or continue to “branch” out…Thank you Kathy for this wonderful reflection and enjoy Seattle.

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  3. I lived on the west coast for two years after graduating from college, and it made me feel more strongly a New Englander. One of the things I could never get used to was that the mountains were to the east and the ocean to the west.
    My two sisters live in or near the city where we grew up, so I can visit often; but, like you, it’s not where I want to live.

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  4. Absolutely loved this piece…maybe because I am also from NJ and still have difficulty with sunrises and sunsets as well as “why the heck is the ocean to the West” (now live in CA)!!? I will always be a Jersey girl and your article put everything in perspective. Good job!

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  5. Hi Kathy,
    I retired on June 23rd. Then I took a two week trip to England (my home till I was 19) With an old school friend I visited my old house, our secondary school and old neighborhood. It was interesting indeed. While I enjoyed that trip down memory lane, I was struck by how I had no desire to live there again. My life in the USA has involved a lot of moving around. I’ve lived in Ohio, Michigan, Colorado, California and finally Oregon for the past 40 years. For many years I held the belief that one day I would move back to the UK. But I have grown and changed, and now launching into retirement and reflecting on how I want to spend my time, I realize that my life here, my friends here and family close by, is where I truly want to reinvent myself.
    I really enjoy your blog and have found it very helpful as I move into this next phase of living. Keep writing and hearty thanks.

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  6. Interestingly, I have no strong desire to return to my childhood home, my college town or even the place I lived in my 20’s. I am looking more to the present and future – I want to reinvent myself here or maybe somewhere totally different. My husband keeps encouraging me to think about the Gulf Coast of Florida, where we just spent (another) 2 weeks. I have no problem watching the sunset over water (even being a Long Island girl growing up). But your comments about finding your authentic identity in retirement resonates… it is my current quest. Maybe looking more into my past could help with that quest. You always make me think!

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    • Yes, Pat, returning to your roots is sometimes the key to finding ourselves. We have traveled a lot of miles since our youth and put on many extra layers of persona. I’m glad it makes you think! That’s also a key to finding our true selves. Good luck! K

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