A college friend recently blogged about memory in its many forms. She got me thinking, or perhaps thinking isn't the right word for the vague ruminations that settle in the mind like a thick fog when one starts remembering.
My memory is fading, but memories from childhood, if fuzzy, elicit the richest emotions. I love how we can dip into a memory like a pudding, and taste a big spoonful, and experience again the feelings that particular event now brings to us.
I watched the second part of Death Comes to Pemberley light night (PBS's Masterpiece, by P.D. James), and Lizzy Bennet's words to D'Arcy at the end were, I think, so wise. I paraphrase: "Let us remember only as it gives us pleasure, and look to the future only as it gives us hope."
I found out this week that my oldest child won't be able to come home for Christmas this year. It's the first Christmas in 25 years that we won't be together. He was born on Christmas Eve, so our first Christmas together was in a quiet hospital room, and I indulged in the new unexpected wonder of having a baby. I didn't expect this year's disappointment to hit me so hard, but as I got off the phone with him, I realized that my heart hurt, and I was sad already at what I'd just lost. Now ... I know ... we have many decades to come, many Christmases, and I'm being emotional. But part of the pain I felt was because of the memories. I wonder if Christmas will ever be the same without him.
I rarely take afternoon naps, and when I do I need a dark room, a blanket, a pillow, a soft, horizontal surface, and some background music. This week I took a nap to some music from a group called Secret Garden -- drifty music, good to nap by. I played this music every morning in the car when we lived in Massachusetts and drove in the darkness to a little school we worked at that year -- four groggy, bleary-eyed children and two weary parents in a van. I drove that route over and over, to that music. As I emerged from my nappy haze, two distinct memories returned to me that I'd not recalled for about ten years -- a man who lived along that school route and his black truck with a large Confederate flag (unusual in Massachusetts). And then another memory of driving those backroads one late afternoon, trying to find my way to a place where one of the children was, relying on my dim knowledge of rural Massachusetts geography, narrow 2-lane roads, and a good sense of direction. Why do memories return and wield an unexpected slap at your brain? Why those memories? A few bars of music, a whiff of aroma, a particular sky -- suddenly something comes back.
I have a Christmas album called Midnight Clear, bought at a WalMart nearly 20 years ago. I love Christmas music (my poor family!), and I played that cassette tape in my kitchen player every Saturday morning for years. Julia calls it the "pancake music"; when she heard it, she knew I was making pancakes and all was right with the world. She's 15, but she still loves Saturday morning pancake music.
And I have this music playing now, as I type this, and I'm whisked back to many mornings when my children were small and messy and trying, and life was very unpredictable, and I was weary. But I still got up and made them (and me) pancakes, so that life would be a little beautiful. I think it stuck with them. I hope they make their own beautiful patterns of life to please themselves and others. I didn't know at the time how important it was.
I will turn my mind, as Lizzy said, to remember only as it gives me pleasure, and to take pleasure (and not sorrow) in memories. The holiday season is a particularly good time to do that.