Stevie Nicks is singing, Time cast a spell on you, but you won’t forget meand I’m thinking of the moments that, on their own, don’t define my life. But strung together? They tell much of my story.

Of course, we never get the whole picture of someone else’s life. I think about that with people I’ve lost, namely my grandmother. I can take other people’s memories and line them up with my own and make something that might look like a mosaic of the life she lived. I doubt it’s entirely accurate, but it’s what I have left.

But I wonder sometimes about my own memories and the picture they make. The full truth is that I don’t really care very much about how they look from the outside looking in. I think the real value of looking at our big moments is to get an accurate picture from the inside. If we’ve got patterns that we don’t like, this is where we have the opportunity to identify them and work toward change.

Of course, when we think of big moments, we often think of the usual milestones: birth, graduation, marriage, divorce, the birth or adoption of a child, illness, or death. There are too many to name. While those are big moments — often huge, extraordinary, picture-worthy moments, there are many life-altering moments that are equally as powerful, if not more so.

I can say that my marriage altered little of my life, but the moment I made the decision to get divorced, my life was altered fully. The birth of my children was significant, beautiful, and powerful, but the life I’ve crafted for the three of us after the dissolution of my marriage was damn near awe-inspiring. Simply because I started with a little and made it a lot; I made it more than work — I made it beautiful.

Other moments change us, too. These are the small decisions that alter our future in ways we never would have expected. Our memories play out, and we can want to hold them tight or erase them, and none of that matters. They’ve happened, and the only way forward is to let them go so that we can create new ones.

Letting go and moving forward is pointless if we don’t learn from the lives we’re living.

Everything in our lives is a learning opportunity if we’re paying attention.

Over the weekend, I took my kids downtown to shop our local stores. In every single shop, my daughter introduced herself and asked the shopkeeper (or server’s) name. She told them she liked their name or their nails or was so happy to meet them. Sure, it was charming. Adorable, even. But it was a lesson, too.

I don’t think I go through life with that kind of pleasure in making others’ acquaintance. Often, I just go about my business, and while I’m polite, I wonder if I’m always as friendly as I could be. My daughter makes it look effortless, but the truth is she puts the effort into knowing people and is happy to have met them. It’s genuine, and she’s not doing it to be liked, although people universally love her.

There’s a lesson just watching her, if I choose to learn it.

Every day, there’s something to be learned, and every day we don’t learn just might be a missed opportunity.

We can choose to embrace our lives and learn from what happens in them, or we can just live them on autopilot. I don’t want to say mindlessly because I think we all have mindful moments, but I wonder sometimes if we have more times of routine or more times we’re fully tuned in to the present moment. I suspect it’s the former rather than the latter.

But the small things help make up the big picture. And there will be a big picture one day, a story someone will tell about who we were. Perhaps, they’re telling it even now. It may not matter what they think, but it does matter if we don’t like the narrative our own actions are creating.

That’s something we can absolutely change when we choose different actions. We are crafting our own lives with every choice we make. If we don’t like the lives we’re living, we need to make new choices. The small choices tell our story, perhaps even more than the bigger ones. The ripple effect of our lives is always happening.

We can make new resolutions. We can disavow the lives we’ve been living. We can vow to make new choices. But what matters will be the steps we make in the direction we’ve chosen. If we only ever make the declaration, it does little good. It’s the actual moving toward our goals that creates an impact.

The lessons are everywhere. More and more, I feel like I’ve missed so many of them.

I don’t want to miss any more.

I watch my daughter learn another name and make another friend, and I try to learn from it. I’m paying attention now. Not just to her. To the life that I’m living. The moments of my life are coming together, and I want to make sure that I’m creating a life I want to remember.

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Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned author. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elephant Journal, Elite Daily, and The Good Men Project. She’s also the author of Left on Main, the first book in the Heart of Madison series. When she’s not writing for Medium and working on her next book, you can find Crystal traveling, paddle boarding, running, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, doing yoga, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with her two wild and wonderful children.


Image courtesy of Michael Liao.