Fingers feel a small smooth rock lifted from the sidewalk, and I remember one like it that I picked up on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, on a blustery spring day. That memory turns my mind to what I never would want to experience — the waves of soldiers wading in the water and advancing up the bluffs, on their journey to liberate.
Weather, too, often reminds us of places past. A perfect day — 75 degrees and dry — transports me to the verdant Applegate Valley in southwest Oregon, out on a splendid bike ride with Jim, my brother. Pelting rain conjures rolling north on the Alaska Highway in 1969, glad that a kind fellow in an MG picked up the hitchhiker before the storm.
The everyday experience can transport us also. Standing in a supermarket checkout line recently, I recalled a happy experience from a grocery in Hamburg, Germany, 2011. My German was weak, and I couldn’t remember the word for receipt. “No problem,” replied the young clerk, in perfect English. “It is called a quittung.” “Quittung,” I repeated, two or three times, scooping up my purchases and wishing her “auf Deutsch,” a nice day.
Memory can improve even the slightly unpleasant. The Washington Metrorail I ride is sometimes crowded; standing close to others propels me to any number of visits to Tokyo, where rush-hour subway trains are truly like sardine cans.
It turns out that this sort of recall, sometimes called memory time travel or chronesthesia, was an important part of early scientific thinking about memory. Even better, quite a bit of scientific evidence shows it’s good for you — a means to relax, to relieve stress and to keep the mind limber.
So try it right now: What and where do you remember? I hope the memory makes you smile.
ROB BRITTON, who lives in suburban Washington, D.C., has worked in travel, including airlines, since 1969. He now consults and teaches as a guest lecturer at business schools worldwide and travels a lot — for real and in his mind.