I’m not imaginative. Never have been. So when I learn that the library where I work was going to host a workshop “Unleash Your Imagination,” I decided that this was exactly what I needed. On the appointed day, I joined twenty some women of different ages who crowded around a large table with a workshop leader at its head. The first thing the leader, a well-into-middle-age woman, told us to do was to relax. This made a lot of sense to me, for how can you unleash anything if you are tense? Except, I have never managed to relax successfully. As soon as I hear somebody telling me to close my eyes, my eyelids begin to flutter, then my nose begins to itch, and when I am supposed to relax my lower body, the itch migrates to my back.
This time was no different, so I soon gave up any attempt at relaxation. Everybody else sat with their eyes closed and their bodies limp, and two women even had their mouths open–kind of like people who had died without anyone around to push their chins up. Then, the workshop leader said, “Imagine yourself in a place where you feel peaceful and free. Smell the smells, enjoy the taste, admire the colors, and caress the surfaces.”
Immediately, everybody’s expression turned even more serene and the two women with their mouths open began making little chewing movements. I had a hard time finding a beautiful place to imagine myself, so instead, I thought of the village of Williams Bay on Geneva Lake, where my daughter, my two grandchildren, my husband and I visited a month earlier. On account of allergies, I couldn’t really smell anything, and the only sound I remembered was the annoying cry of seagulls. As for colors, it was already dusk when we got there, so everything looked kind of gray and yellowish. Still, the grandchildren liked the beach, so it was nice anyway.
By the time I got really comfortable with my memories, our leader commanded, “Now, open your eyes and draw the scene you just imagined.” Everybody sprang to action and began drawing rather complex scenes with trees, waterfalls, and butterflies, while all I could manage was two lines: one, wavy, for the lake, and the other one, straight, for the beach. Behind the straight line, I put several small blots for seagulls and several bigger blots — with sticks indicating arms and legs — for my family. I was about to start coloring my granddaughter’s hair, when the workshop leader stopped our artistic endeavors and asked the participants to tell the group about their drawings and what they represented.
Everybody began sharing a paradise-like vision of herself sitting, lying, or walking in a garden with singing fountains, in mountains covered with light puffy clouds, or on a boat lit by the setting sun. There was only one lady there whose imagination took her to a twisted Dali-esque landscape she had once hallucinated in a morphine-induced state while recovering from surgery.
After all the other participants had spoken, the leader’s gaze turned to me. I took a deep breath, opened my mouth, but … no sound came out, for instead of a warm and fuzzy, dream-like vision, I pictured my grandchildren running by the water’s edge, shouting, scaring seagulls, and spattering us with wet sand. Then I heard myself telling them a joke I heard earlier that day, “Do you know why seagulls fly over the sea? Because if they flew over the bay, they’d be called bagels!”
Then I saw my seven-year-old grandson turn to his younger sister, point to the seagulls flying over Williams Bay, and say, “Look at those bagels, Mary!”
My four-year-old granddaughter, who must have decided that “bagels” was the proper thing to call these birds, ran in the direction of their flight shouting, “Bagels, bagels!”
“She can’t understand that joke,” my daughter said. “You shouldn’t have told it.”
“Well, it’s about time for her to learn about humor,” I said.
“I don’t think so,” my husband said. “She’s too young.”
“Not really,” I said. “I told her about Winnie the Pooh and she laughed.”
And then the three of us began arguing about stages in child development …
“Would you like to share your vision with us?” The leader said, smiling encouragingly.
I looked at her through the cloud of my memories and, to my surprise, a sudden pain pierced through my chest, halting my breathing, and lodging somewhere between my shoulder blades. And as if I were reading the story of my life, I suddenly knew that that casual evening when everybody was healthy and good natured, though it might have lacked beautiful colors, enticing sounds, or profound words, was better than anything I could ever imagine. It was simple and it was precious, and it will never be repeated again...
“Sorry,” I said, shrinking under the gazes directed at me from all sides. “I have no vision to share. I couldn’t unleash my imagination. I only unleashed my memories.”