I was reading my friends post by this title and it set me musing on what I might choose for myself.
I considered by son's birth story, but I put that more in the empowering category.
I considered my wedding day and many delightful times I have shared with my husband, but those were later memories in that they weren't formative of my character.
I considered the philosophical crisis I faced in Poland having just finished reading "Atlas Shrugged" and standing before a small mountain of people's ashes. I vividly remember that feeling of being divided in two wanting to pray but having no idea if that was simply delusional. I think I would put that moment in the life changing category.
As I continued to consider, I kept coming back to memories of my family's favorite vacation spot when I was a child. It's not a single memory, more like a mesh of warm, fuzzy, deeply soothing moments. The place is called Sea Ranch. It's on the Northern California coast and it is here where my love for the ocean began. I still find standing on a cliff by the ocean deeply self-nurturing. It's such a complete sensory experience and so joyful to me that I feel like I literally soak it in. I love the sounds of giant waves pounding the rocks while the sea gulls give their eery calls above. I love the feel of the cool spray, the trembling earth, the wind, the sun. I love the sights of the deep, deep blue Pacific, the bent cyprus trees, the colorful tide pools, and the sunsets that streak the waters with rippling gold. I love the salty smells and the wood smoke and the musty pine when traveling through a thicket. I can put myself so completely in this place that I yearn for it when I've been away for a long time. There is nothing like this kind of ocean setting to sooth my soul; it gives me such inner happiness just to experience this particular aspect of nature. I have lots of happy family memories too of building sand castles, flying kites, roasting marshmallows, and listening to my dad's stories of far away fantasy lands.
So, I think I would put the mesh of these memories as the best of my childhood. I would say they were formative just in that they supported me being happy with myself. It became a solid basis for me to enjoy quiet moments alone. I didn't need popular approval to relish the little brook I discovered that became my favorite high-school homework spot or a small waterfall in the woods surrounding my college. These aren't sad, solitary memories; they are peaceful, happy ones. I think Sea Ranch actually helped me develop independence by fostering contentment with solitary happiness.