“When you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me. It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart. For as long as you remember me, I am never entirely lost. When I’m feeling most ghost-like, it is your remembering me that helps remind me that I actually exist. When I’m feeling sad, it’s my consolation. When I’m feeling happy, it’s part of why I feel that way.”
― Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter’s Dictionary
I know all of us have those crystalline moments of pure memory, a celebrated achievement like an award received or a promotion, a big life moment like our wedding, learning we were pregnant, or the birth of a special child, and events that add to our string of memories small pearls of the routine, trips to the library, walks to the playground, and larger pearls, more central, anchors of our life. Few of these, at least for me, exist in isolation. Most involve others.
It’s nice to think that our memories may be equally cherished by those with whom we share them. To paraphrase Walt Whitman, we can hope “our very life will be a poem” that we recite with another, and that they will treasure it, hold it in memory, recalling verses in the night from which to draw comfort, or a smile, hopefully even a laugh.
Of course, memories are not all good. I have more than my share from childhood that I’d like to forget but can’t. So when I had children, (and now grandchildren 🙂 ), I tried to “make memories” for them. Christmases, birthdays, trips to Green Lakes and Beaver Lakes, walking the Beach and the jetty at Cape Cod, making our own tide pools with hermit crabs, playing with Stormy and Spray at the Aquarium, special dinners with “the good china” and the green crystal goblets. I wanted them to walk through the door of our house, smell something wonderful for dinner, and think, “I’m home.” And I wanted home to equal “I’m loved.”
I hope it worked. I think it did. And doing it for them made me happy and whole as well. One of my inexpensive but priceless treasures is a tiny plaque my daughter gave me. It reads, “Home is where your mom is.”
Sometimes, in my mind I walk in happier childhood remembrance through the woods near my home. I follow the creek there, once again trying to find its origin. If I am distressed my memory and I walk Harbor Beach at sunset watching the colors change on the sheen left behind by the waves. But my best memories are of Doug in a red sweater singing and playing guitar when we were dating, or the two of us stealing time to play a game of backgammon when the children were small, or of looking at Chris run through the house, wearing the Superman Cape I made him, trying to fly, and of Gretchen and her “Teddy” (who started out bigger than her,) and her bringing him to me to fix when one of his “googly” eyes fell out. “He’s blind, mommy, Teddy’s blind.” Back then a little black thread and Teddy could see once again…oh, if only life’s problems stayed that simple.
I don’t know how Gretchen would tell that story, but I know she remembers it. She has an amazing memory, even remembering down to age two a time she woke up and I rocked her in her great-grandmother’s rocker and fed her peaches. Perhaps her memory is so good because she was deliberate about trying to remember things. Once when she was a little girl I watched her turn her head in several directions and open and shut her eyes. “What are you doing, honey?” I asked her. “I’m taking pictures in my mind, so I won’t forget this,” was her answer.
When I was young, “women of certain means” would be given a necklace with a single pearl for their sixteenth birthday. As they aged, it would be added to and they would wear it on their wedding day. Special events would be celebrated with a pearl and eventually it became an elegant and lustrous treasure. My pearls are just those moments of life, only memories, far less substantial, but warm and certainly supremely treasured.
Not surprisingly, the importance of the ordinary can be so easily lost when we go looking for memories. Looking back, I realize how many of my pearls are made up of the everyday. But in that moment, my focus was taken up by all I had to do, running to keep up and get everything done. The perfect sunsets blended into one another and merely marked the end of yet another busy day. It’s only in retrospect that my perception has changed, only now that everything can be seen in perspective, the pearls measured and aligned in perfect symmetry.
And of course, our mind plays tricks, since memories are rarely so symmetrical or perfect. They do live “in the corners of our minds,” covered over time by cobwebs of grace, until the edges are blurred like “watercolor pictures.” But imperfect as they are, it is in making them that we live and love, and in remembering them that we rediscover the pearls, and recall the smiles, the laughter, and the tears.
It’s Sunday….it’s an ordinary day….go make a memory.