Memory Collector

Memories.  I’m fascinated by them.  What remains, what vanishes, what is sketchy, yet, poignant.  And February 10th, being my son’s birthday (Matthew would have been 32), my memories are speaking to me in many ways.  In fact, I realized, that in terms of life themes (this is the 4th and final blog post of the LifeThemes2012 blog series), I’ve always been a “memory collector.”  Aren’t you?  And while this can sound like a rather generic life theme, I’m not sure that’s the case.

Yes, most of us have memories (good, bad, in-between), but everyone feels differently about the role they play in their lives.  The mysterious aspect of memories is difficult to ignore.  And some memories are so powerful that we can’t let go of them even when we try.

“Don’t be controlled by your memories.”  How often have we heard that piece of advice?

Every man’s memory is his private literature. 
~Aldous Huxley

  • How do memories impact your life?
  • What is your earliest memory?
  • What memory would you never share with anyone?
  • Do some memories catch you by surprise, sneaking into your awareness when you least expect it?
  • Ever thought about “collective memories” v. “individual memories?”

Memories comprise our stories.  Like sand castles, each life rises and falls.  Even our most dedicated and deliberate efforts can’t prevent the ocean tide from rolling in, leaving nothing behind.  Merely a smooth surface, the castle swept away in an instant.  Yet, that reality is something we stumble over time and time again.

On some level we want our lives to be made of stone, lasting “forever” (whatever forever is), and thus, we miss the beauty of the moment because we are overly focused on the future and making things last.  True?

Memories remind me of sea shells.  Beautiful remnants of various colors, sizes, shapes.  They dot the beach, the sand, and we collect them.  Save them.

Unlike the sand castle, seashells retain their shape.  Some for millions of years.  The ones we pick up and take home are empty, clean … the life they held, no longer visible.  So we marvel at what is left, don’t we?  And memories are what is left …

One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach.
One can collect only a few, and they are
more beautiful if they are few.

~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I thought I understood the power of memories until Matthew’s loss nearly 5 years ago now.  But once you experience a profound loss in life, you begin to look at everything differently, especially memories.  Their role is suddenly magnified.  Nearly overpowering.  It seems they seek you out, coming into your awareness with incredible force from out of the blue.

A piece of music can trigger an avalanche of memories.

A picture can lead you down a path you don’t want to travel.

A letter can almost be unbearable to read, because each word leads to one inevitable conclusion.

And memories, as a whole, point to the steady advance of a mortal journey.  The time between today and yesterday forever lengthening.  Always reminding us that our sand castle is temporary, fleeting.

The pear tree Matt is standing beside was on our Christmas cards in 2011.

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens.

The picture and the quote capture life, as a whole, so eloquently.

Little did Matt know how I would look back on this picture with such deep appreciation for his life: for his season on earth.

This picture was taken in August of 2006, ten months before his death in June of 2007.

And of course my mind still reels with the reality of it all.  We never get used to loss.  We are never “over it” because it is life’s greatest lesson.  Maybe it is the only lesson of life.  Ever thought about it like that?

The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.
~ Rilke

Maybe, like the seashell, when we are “empty, clean” our beauty will be revealed in a different light.  The sand castle will be long gone, of course.  Our futile, nearly silly, efforts unable to withstand the universal tide of loss.  And though unthinkable sorrow is clearly part of this process, we are part of it … we are it, in fact.

Looking at my son’s picture, a sunny morning on the farm with coffee in hand, I could study his smile for limitless hours, days unending.  What was he thinking about?  The pears.  The beauty of harvest.  The warm day.  The blue sky stretching overhead like an eternal peace offering.  The day ahead.

How could it be that the season has ended so soon?

The leaves of memory seemed to make
A mournful rustling in the dark.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I forge on, albeit slowly, with a memoir about Matthew, letting the fertile ground of memory guide me.  Not wanting to force a storyline like memoir writers are instructed to do, I’m focusing on the deeper aspects of loss … the moments when I am “defeated by greater and greater things.”

Only love can never be defeated.  Only love remains.

Everybody needs his memories.  They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door.  ~Saul Bellow

From day one we carry loss within us.  Yet, we fight its presence in myriad ways.  What would the world be like if we allowed loss to dwell within us more peacefully?  How would that change your relationships, your priorities, your values?  

Isn’t most of the drama, the conflict and violence, the suffering, caused by our fear of loss?  By irrational thinking.  By our subconscious drive to outsmart it, outrun it, out maneuver it? 

If loss is indeed the lesson of each life, does that make our memories more or less important?  What do you think?

The past is never dead, it is not even past.  ~William Faulkner

Because of my memories, Matt is forever “alive.”  His voice as clear as a bell; his life journey, its many twists and turns, something I revisit often.  He had a wonderful sense of humor.  Would have made a great comedian.  Those are endearing memories.  Matt imitating someone, offering a joke or a funny take on a situation.  And since we all represent “loss” (realized or to be realized), our memories are as vital to this moment as what can be seen right in front of us.    

Memories are life. 

It’s all one in the same.  No need to worry about “being controlled” by our memories, because in the grand scheme of things: It is all inseparable.  Bottom-line, don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about celebrating, enjoying, or acknowledging the power and place of your memories.  Dwell with them as you choose.  Talk about them.  Write about them.  Savor and treasure them.  Love them.  Allow them to be part of who you are today.  Express them in ways that are meaningful to you.  Trying to wish them away or cut yourself off from them is pure nonsense.  And its painful and pointless.

The whole of life is now. 

As Faulkner so wisely noted, “it is not even past.” 

May you find joy in your memories.  Allow them to release the love in your heart that can never be defeated. 

  • And to you, Matthew, thank you for teaching us that imperfection is part of the universal plan.  None of us could even define perfection if we had to … because it is an illusion.  Yet, we chase its shadow like fools, allowing some make-believe condition to take root in our imaginations.  Imperfection is perfection.  It is all life and it is all inseparable.

To live in hearts we leave behind
Is not to die.
~Thomas Campbell, Hallowed Ground

Blog posts by DazyDayWriter @ work in SunnyRoomStudio: all rights reserved.