Flashback Triggers

The other day, I sat on a swing for the first time in 15 years. Beyond the obvious lesson on the surprisingly strong physics of this simple device, I felt transported back to the many times I had used it before.

I remembered the white rope and bleached orange seat of the swing I used to jump off of when I was eight. I also recalled how much it hurt when my arm got twisted in said rope, and how it stopped my swing-jumping career dead in its tracks.

I remembered sitting idle on many swings in playgrounds in my teenage years, feeling lonely, sad, or rejected. I would stare at my phone, hoping another text would come from a girl I liked, or that a bad situation would resolve itself in a better way. Maybe the minimal physical movement was comforting.

In thinking about these things, I remembered the swing rides at fairs and amusement parks. How high they go sometimes, and how free I felt letting my hands and feet dangle in the wind whenever I rode them.

I remembered Devin Graham’s video of “the world’s largest swing,” where he and friends basically just tied some ropes to a huge rock arch in Utah, then jumped off the top of it. How excited I felt seeing that video when it first came out, and how far video production has come since then.

If you want proof that your brain stores every single experience and that nothing ever gets lost, touch an item you were once familiar with but haven’t used in years. Grab your old tennis racket from the basement, open a high school textbook, or go sit on a public bench. Press the “flashback trigger,” as I call them, and see what comes out. The flood of information they can release is astonishing.

Flashback triggers are everywhere, because as we keep growing, we also grow apart from many people and things. But just because you no longer call your high school bestie every day does not mean your shared past is erased. All it takes is one look at their picture, and a wealth of memories will come back.

Flashback triggers are a bit like Forrest’s box of chocolates: You never know what you’re gonna get. Sometimes, the memories will be sad. Sometimes, they will be full of joy. But it’s good to remind yourself that your hard drive is never full, and that what once was will not always be.

Honor the power of flashback triggers. Use it, if only from time to time. And if you’re ever sitting heartbroken around a playground, remember: One day, this will only be a memory — and at least you’re still swinging.