Tucked way in the very back of my upstairs hallway closet, there's a storage bin filled with pictures, maps, brochures, coins and other bits from the year I lived in Cardiff, Wales. I filled that bin when I returned to my parents house after the year studying abroad and have moved it from house to apartment to duplex to apartment to at least three more houses over the past 15 years.
My intent, of course, was to make a series of photo scrapbooks that would capture all the beautiful places I went and all the things I accomplished that year. I planned to have albums that I could flip through to treasure the memories or share stories with my children of the great adventure mommy had before they were even an idea.
And yet, more than a decade later, everything is still shoved into that same plastic bin -- much to my husband's chagrin.
Thankfully, treasured memories aren't dependent on neatly organized photo albums. Sometimes, a particular scent or sound -- or even a cartoon glass -- can be enough to conjure up the most vivid picture of a day long gone.
Today it was Spotify that served as my Proustian madeleine, courtesy of a playlist built around a mix tape that had been my sound track during that year in Cardiff. A fellow American scholar studying at Oxford became one of my favorite friends that year -- we visited each other and marveled that we, with our parallel lives and similar tastes, hadn't crossed paths sooner. The mix tape she made for me offered an entire Gravity's Pull album on one side, harkening back to the days when we didn't know each other at UNC, and a collection of tracks from Nancy Griffith, Nikki Meets the Hibachi, Shawn Colvin, Del Amitri, Shannon Worrell, Soul Miner's Daughter, Rebecca Riots and more on the other side.
I listened to that tape, my walkman tucked into the pocket of my weather-proof coat, every day for months as I walked to class, to the city centre, to a friend's flat, to the train station, to museums and galleries and castles and pubs. The songs rang of strength and friendship, searching and wonder. They were my constant partner as I found myself able to live so far from home, able to succeed on my own in a way I hadn't been sure was possible.
When I came back to the U.S., I was still listening to that same tape as I walked the halls again at UNC, where I found myself surprisingly ready to meet the man who would be my husband.
This morning, more than a decade gone by, I listened to Dave Matthews hum out his "Christmas Song" on the Spotify playlist that I finally built based on that mix tape. There's no tape deck in my car anymore, but I didn't want to give up the tape -- iPhone to the rescue.
Although I was driving roads in Raleigh, running ordinary errands on this ordinary day, I had the extraordinary sense of being transported through space and time I thought were lost. I felt the blessings of being known by a friend discovered in a moment when I needed that connection more than ever. I recalled the confidence borne out of finding my own way. I pictured the path I walked from my flat toward the capitol, the details of my room, the oceans of daffodils filling the gardens, the faces and voices of people I haven't seen since I returned home after we completed our degrees.
And I smiled to myself, holding the treasure of that year and that entire dusty storage bin in my mind.