Merry Memory, and Many Happy Returns

Life is portable; the past is anchored, and memory is its unreliable Boswell, an attempt at history that, strangely, over time, becomes less witness than hearsay, or myth.

One can enter memory in much the same fashion that one finds his way to and into a familiar room with the lights out, where one knows where to sit and what generalized forms and specific objects he will be able to make out, more or less, as his eyes adjust.

Memory is not a process, or a state; memory is a place. But, unlike the idea of place that we know in the physical world – where you go somewhere to find yourself in it – memory is also a place that can come to you, even unbidden.

We are, all of us, in a memory time of year – for everyone, holidays and rituals based knowingly or not on the return of the light loom large, and we cannot help but flash back to times when life seemed happier or simpler or more understandable; when families were full and there were no gaps; when memories were being made, not being recalled. It is, personally, a memory time because it was in mid-December, more than two decades ago, that a handful of wonderful beings entered our lives, changing them forever, and, later, at other times, in separate memory rooms, departed. Then, too, as we struggle to disassemble a loved house and move much of it to the next place we call home, memory is the 300-lb. gorilla that is the room. Everywhere we turn, the place we are viewing dissolves, and for a moment (a split-moment? no time at all?) we are in the same place but on a different plane, involved in a collision in which where becomes when.

And as we take furniture and personal possessions to the new place – leaving voids for memory to fill, and anti-matter spaces that have spectral solidity, like phantom limbs ­– it is for more than mere practicality that we do so, more than just to avoid having to lay out the money for a new chair when we have a perfectly good one (or two, or five) already available, and appropriate. Part, if not much, of the reason we take our stuff with us is that these things are time machines – by merely keeping them near, and occasionally giving them some attention, they take us to places of memory.

The odd or wondrous thing about memory is that it is not static – it is cumulative, and discriminating. For, given a sufficient amount of time, the older memory fades as newly minted memories cling to object and place, and new myths are born, burnished and held to the heart.

This holiday season, then, it is not necessary to bodily travel to be somewhere else and to be in the presence of those you love – just look around at where you are, and allow yourself to be taken to where you’ve been when you were here before. But don’t dwell too long, or cling to that place. So long as you are you, it will always be there, and at the moment you need it, somehow, in your hand, you will find the key, and know the way, and you will feel the power of its placeness. And you will feel at home.

palace at 4 a.m.

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