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Holten: Life's little reminders

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Do you ever get little mental reminders? You know, just something that pops into your head and reminds you of a past event, a loved one you knew and lost or a friend who passed away last year, 10 years ago or maybe 20. I do all the time. I'm just not sure where they come from.

I don't mean semi-depressing reminders of daily duties that are piled up so high on a to-do list that it extends from here to Jamaica. Because those are the ones that make you want to ride off into the sunset, book a flight to Argentina or at least look longingly out the window and daydream about your next vacation.

No, I'm talking about seeing a dog that reminds you of your old puppy on the anniversary of the day he died. Or hearing a first name that is the same as someone you quit seeing two years ago on the second anniversary of the day you first met.

I'm talking about coincidental or special little reminders that have incredibly impeccable timing and meaning.

I sometimes think our minds are like a revolving conveyer belt upon which pleasant memories are stacked and then recycled at the most impacting moment, to coax us, prod us, change us or point us in a specific direction, or why else would they exist? It can't be just for entertainment, can it?

Maybe their goal is to remind us to enjoy the little things in life so that one day we can look back and realize that they were the big things.

Then again, maybe their goal is to remind us that life is like a rollercoaster and that it is our choice to enjoy or to not enjoy the ride. Maybe they exist to remind us that the purpose of life is the purpose of life.

I don't pretend to know. But I do know this: little reminders definitely exist.

My friend, who died eight months ago, had an older brother who used to call him Bimbo. How many people call their brother Bimbo?

The other day that brother, who now lives in Alaska, stopped for a beer and later, when he came out of the bar, he was face to face with a big sign that read, "Bimbo Bakeries USA." That's just one of those coincidental little reminders I'm talking about.

We don't necessarily get them every day or even every week. Because meaningful little reminders wouldn't be as meaningful if we got them all the time. But we do get them and when we do, they stand out like a rabbi in a biker bar or cowboy boots on a tennis court.

Often times they prompt an action, a moment of meditation or a good old fashioned trance.

They are apparently initiated by intergalactic classroom monitors who sit in front of computers, watch your daily activities on a big screen and press the appropriate key that transmits the appropriate memory at exactly the most magical time.

The little reminders are surprising, serendipitous, stupendous and satisfying all at once, and you would order them if you could. If you could give them away as gifts, you'd order more. But you can't, and that makes them even more special.

When my aunt was dying, she and my mother talked about how life was much like the metamorphosis of a butterfly, where it goes from being a caterpillar, into a cocoon and ultimately springs forth as a beautiful butterfly. It's an interesting and comforting analogy.

After my aunt died, on her birthday, a butterfly appeared to my mom and landed somewhere very close to her. You can call it a coincidence, happenstance, anomaly or galactic stunt. Either way, it was one of those little reminders full of meaning, remembrance, closeness and awe.

For me, when I look back on my life and list all of my mistakes and frustrations, I realize that they can't possibly come close to competing with the much longer list of big events and little reminders.

Because what I've learned is that it's better to look back on life and say, "I can't believe I did that," than to look back and say, "I wish I did that."

Holten is the manager of The Drill, which is a part of Forum News Service. Email him at