(Stream of Consciousness)
In response to a recent discrepancy over the actual age of my mother, I find myself thinking deeply about which memories matter. This is not easy— this mental sorting and slicing, judging and reordering, prioritizing and deleting. In the process, I realize memories trigger emotions and depending on the moment some may not be welcomed. I tell myself memories are snapshots of the past framed by present consciousness (which will either dull, sharpen or distort the image) but inevitably they will still elicit emotions that may or may not be friendly. If I go a step further past my own personal experiences like my childhood or moments that define my parenthood, I start thinking about history and what we choose to pass on from generation to generation. Sayings like “Never forget” come to mind and what does that mean for our children when we bring the past to bear on the decisions we make in the present? When might it be better if we start afresh? Unfortunately as I grow older I am very much aware of Time and how Time takes back parts our memory whether we like it or not. Some, like my grandmother, will grapple with the devastating impact of Alzheimer’s, which basically speeds up the process dramatically. If in the end we only have partial control of which memories we keep, then it makes perfect sense to consider which memories are really worth fighting for.
Life is short and our interpretation of the past is as powerful as our dreams of the future. Distorted or not they can paralyze you by keeping you locked in a vicious cycle of reflection, regret and analysis. What did that mean? What do I do with that memory? How much changes and how much stays the same? Of course all of this thinking is really about how we forgive ourselves and others for our imperfections. Never will a memory live up to the truth about who we are because like I said, a memory is a snapshot that is framed by consciousness. Looking at it will never take into account the entirety of the experience nor honor the infinite beauty of a whole life. One moment in a person’s life is one stroke on a canvas and by looking at only one stroke one can never define the essence of a painting.
If we do not know where we come from, how do we know where we are going? Another perfectly suitable question. More than a question it’s an interrogation. I don’t know the answer to this, only that I am living this moment in life when memory seems overwhelmingly significant and insignificant at the same time. Is this just an illusion the notion of Time and memory? Is it elastic?
I have spent the last few months (or has it been years?) deciding whether or not to put my paintings back on the walls and line my bookshelves with books that are living in boxes waiting for that elusive next chapter to begin. Every photograph that documents my life is put away and the bareness of it all is invigorating. Don’t get me wrong. I am sad. I am sad when my son leans down now to hug me. I flash back to his chubby cheeks and five year old musings. He grew up while I was waiting. I am sad to watch my little girl grow up, up, and away while my new sofa just arrived and what is the point if she is not sitting in it? My throat gets tight when I think about those that I love passing on or moving away even though each change, each transition is also such a relief because I get tired of repeating things and there is just not enough space for new life if everything around me and inside me is cluttered and full.
I am one with the universe in my thinking. What I do with my personal selection process is what we do as a people. No, I don’t think we should forget slavery or the Holocaust, like I don’t think I should forget the moments in my life when I lived in the dark— but I can’t keep myself there. I can’t keep myself stuck in the past whether it was amazing and brilliant or dark and gloomy. I can’t think about the savage brutality of the Inquisition for example and not open my mind and heart to the message of the new Pope. I can’t pine over the glorious days of my youth at the expense of taking care of my aging body.
In this fight with Time, we have to be careful. We have to divvy up and decide. Which memories bring us closer to the infinite beauty inside us? Which memories are burdensome, keep us in a permanent, fixed stance of judgment and prevent us from healing? Which memories suffocate our creativity and prevent us from opening the door to new life?
Which memories matter?