I’ve taken lately to watching videos of my sweet puggle, Daisy Mae, as a way of coping with her death. We live in this world now where we record or take a snapshot of nearly every moment of our loved ones. In Daisy’s passing, I’m glad for it. It brings back memories I’d nearly forgotten. It gives me a chance to laugh again when I see her doing something goofy in those first few days we brought her home or six months or a year later.
But there’s also a part of me that wishes memories could pass more easily, that certain moments we captured would fall into the category of remembrance without also becoming memorialized.
In other words, there’s a time and place for recalling something, a cherished memory you keep just for you, and there’s a whole other time and place for saving something, returning to it, holding onto it, seemingly forever. Those are two decidedly different things to me.
Growing up in the age before smartphones, we grew up in a world of fewer complications where aside from a Nintendo or Nickelodeon, we still played outside as children. We knew how to play the way children are meant to play, using our imaginations and allowing new creativities to spark up and then dissolve in the short span of a summer afternoon.
I think that impermanence is sacred. I don’t know why I think it’s sacred other than the mere fact that it seems to be something we fear now, and I tend to think it’s those things we fear the most that are where we should stop in our tracks and try to understand those fears, embracing them, rather than rushing into fight or flight mode.
This need we have nowadays to capture every moment, document it, store it in the cloud, and retrieve when needed is really, I think, about the fear of our own impermanence. How many memories does it take to capture our own immortality? Or, at the least, is the documentation a path to leaving our mark and legacy on this pale blue dot? It’s like a desperate attempt to maintain relevance that lasts beyond the time we were meant to be here.
And it’s the fact we weren’t really meant to be here that long that makes me want to believe our memories should be just as fleeting as we are.
Who am I to judge, though? My writing, while different than snapping a picture or shooting a short video, is exactly that – a vain attempt in a way to document this very moment in my head or my own memories. We critics are always the guiltiest of what we criticize.
I want it both ways if I’m being honest. I want the memory but I don’t want to want it. I wonder what the world before smartphones–maybe even before writing itself–must have been like when it came to what we needed to hold onto. Did not having quick access to what actually happened provide us with a kind of freedom we no longer have available? It’s hard to live in a world of worries if you knew going into it that everything is eventually forgotten.
Or, was the opposite true: was getting around and getting by in the world more like living with some kind of cultural dementia? Our pasts lost to us, our memories guaranteed to change as we change, as we age, the importance of what we remember altered over the span of space and time. That sounds awful, somehow unfair. If my memories or the memories of those I loved or hated could easily be altered–by what benefits me or them or what hurts less or what hurts more or what was needed and called for, for the sake of my santiy, or theirs–our memories would be a pool of “fake news” we could never trust.
And something tells me, sadly, that even having the documentation in 2019, and those issues haven’t really changed. We can sometimes prove something as factually true now, sure. But how many stories, pictures and videos do we find ourselves arguing over when “evidence” is right in front of us, and we’re all watching and looking at the same thing? Which isn’t to say there isn’t one truth with factual veracity, just that it seems to matter less and less as we’re overtaken by gut instinct and base emotions.
Is it safe to say we’d be more likely to hear one another, to really listen to the many different perspectives–at least the ones that deserve to be heard–if we weren’t constantly turning to the documentation, to the text, to the “proof” but cared, earnestly, about validating the pangs and pains and fears that people carry that will need to be addressed regardless of what or whether there’s any proof to be told.
It’s those raw things we remember, without any evidence, that perhaps even say more about who we are or believe ourselves to be.
For me, it was a six-hour hike my friend Aaron and I took following the creek that wove its way to the South Forked Deer River, and there were a surprising number of half-submerged cars where all that was visible – and with no road or bridge in sight – was the hood and front left tire.
It was screaming at Josh in the canoe because I felt ignored or teased. Or punching Tyler in the face because I was jealous of his new friendship.
It was swimming at Sean’s house while his grandparents played Super Nintendo cussing at the TV in a dimly lit home where we congregated in the garage to play foosball on a breezy June day.
It was the blood on my kneecap after falling off my bike and smearing on an aloe vera plant that was growing next to someone’s mailbox.
It was summer camp and no lights on in the cabin save the counselor’s flashlight with a long lecture about what it meant to be a good person and then falling asleep to the sounds of the crickets chirping outside as reliably as the ocean slapping against the seashore.
It was the ocean and walking along the beach as if there was something there I would find, some big question answered because a place like that always seemed like it provided both questions and answers.
It was art class and the radio playing and quietly muttering to myself how much I hated something.
It was the smell of the campfire or the sound it made when Adam walked on the coals after the fire died down.
It was the sand dunes and the call to prayer and running into Hamza sitting near the Olive Grove just contemplated his life, not knowing he only had days to live.
I could go on and on, memories like your life flashing before your eyes just before you die. Or before someone else did. Or before it felt like they had.
I want them all written down, documented, stored in the cloud or here on the blog. I want the proof and the memory, like a gravestone–carved up for forever.
And I want none of that because I’d much prefer the clean slate of forgetfulness, which is so very close to forgiveness yet not the same.
Instead, we just get some hodgepodge of both and have the tough task ahead of figuring out what to keep and what to toss aside, what to forgive or be forgiven for, and what to forget or alter the way we need it forgotten or altered. I wish I had a rule, or some sort of rubric for how best to go about that. I’d share it with you, the wise advice I’d know it would be.
But, really, it’s different for us all, and that’s part of why we hurt one another so much, I think, because my memories and what I need to hang onto is inevitably going to differ from what the rest of the world needs to hang onto. The best we can do is listen and hope we get it right, speak our truth as we remember it, and try our damnedest to move forward offering others the understanding we’d hope they’d give us.
Easier said than done. Easier forgotten than remembered. Oh well.