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A Little Happier: The Sound of My Shoes Clicking on Marble Reminded Me of My Past

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I’m writing a book about the five senses–what a joy it is to work on this book.

In a discussion of the powers of the senses, people often mention the power of sensations to spark memories of the past. One of my least favorite things about myself is that I remember so little from my own life—which is one reason why I’m attracted to any exercise that helps me recollect things.

And I’ve definitely found that tuning into my five senses has helped me to remember my own past more vividly.

The five senses trigger the release of memories I didn’t know I had. Moments rise up from the deep past—the other day, when I walked by a bar on Lexington Avenue, the smell of stale beer reminded me of a popular college bar I used to visit.

This memory had been tucked away, but I’d never called for it. Now that I’m attending so closely to my senses, these earlier impressions are floating to the surface far more often.

The other day, when I was walking in hard-soled shoes across a marble floor, the distinctive sound triggered two memories simultaneously, from very different parts of my life.

I remembered being about six years old, and trying on a pair of patent-leather shoes in the basement of a department store. My mother had told me to walk around to see if they fit, and as I walked on the hard floor, I heard little clicks that made me feel very grown-up. I loved those shoes.

And another memory flashed up, from years later. I was rushing around our apartment doing last-minute preparations for a surprise birthday party that my mother, sister, and I were throwing for my father. Earlier in the day, some flower arrangements had arrived, and as I hurried from one room to another, I heard my heels click against the floor, and I heard four-year-old Eliza say softly to her babysitter, “My mommy is having a flower party”—and I was overwhelmed with the astonishing realization that I was an adult, I was the mommy, I was having a flower party.

To this day, when I’m wearing very grown-up shoes, and I hear them click against a hard surface, I connect again to my previous selves: the little girl in a department store, and the young mother preparing for party.

The five senses help connect us to the present moment, and they also help to connect us with our past.

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