Each of us has two tanks inside, the main tank and the auxiliary tank. The main tank is what we mean when we say “Memories to last a lifetime.” If we fill it when we are young, we can settle down in peace.
My theory is that we all need enough people, experiences and places to fill the main tank. The size of our main tanks varies widely. Some people never fill theirs. Some, like me, have relatively small tanks. Which is why I am easy to satisfy.
The Auxiliary Tank, in this metaphor, is big enough to last for decades, and it is where we store the people, experiences and places of our lives. It is from peering into this tank that we can get the sense of a life well lived. At least that’s how I feel when I look in mine.
I know a lot about three male tanks: my dad’s, one of my professors, and mine.
My dad, married at 18, literally lived on the same block his entire life and had two children by the time he was 20. He told me he lived a life of regret alongside his half-century of happy marriage. This morning, I know his regret was that his main tank, however small, was not full.
My professor, married at 21, had a life of excitement and adventure. Having read the letters he sent me when I was considering a cross-country move, I feel sure his tank was empty. “Do it while you’re young,” he wrote me. “When I was 24 I had a wife and daughter.” His reaction to an empty tank, alas, was serial infidelity and restlessness. I believe he spent his life trying to fill his main tank.
My small tank was full quite early, by age 25. A happy childhood, a clean break with my family and the experience of living in Boston and Hartford, three exciting professional journalism jobs, multiple close and life-long friends, enough travel to satisfy me. I do, indeed, have a full tank of memories to last me a lifetime, and an auxiliary tank deep enough to swim in every day.
I thank God for my full tank; I hope yours is full too. If not, try to fill it without hurting those around you.