He was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past. – Gabriel García Márquez
Our perceptions of memories change over time. Some events have great significance attached to them in the present moment. Each fine detail is captured and analyzed for clues about what happened, or what might happen next. The textures, smells, colors all swirl together in a sensory cocktail. But over time the finer details are lost. The things deemed unnecessary are purged from the recollection. We are left with shadows and not substance. In the end, we can consciously recall the overall feeling decorated with fabricated embellishments. Through these recollections we resurrect ourselves in the present.
Only in close, intimate relationships can we learn how others see us. There are some revelations in casual moments, glances, body language, expressions when our impression on others is reflected back at us. Because of the personal distance between us, these encounters can more easily be dismissed with: he’s an asshole, what a jerk, that was nice…. During this ongoing pandemic, it is more difficult to express our emotions publicly because so much is said with facial expressions. Although they can’t see it, I still smile at store clerks and people I pass by. But much of the richness and depth of experience is lost. This deadening of the social space has been unsettling.
All of us have experienced loss. The closer the relationship the harder the adjustment to the loss. What we carry with us though keeps a hint of their glittering spark alive, no matter how infinitesimal. What we the living care for are their memories as well: the stories they told, the pleasures and pains they found in life. These become the living genealogy of our family, friends and dearest loves. This is the duty of the living to the dead. But what we carry with us into the present should enhance our life and not impede our journey. Those memories that restrict our life to reliving the past, must be dealt with before we can move ahead.
America’s has now lost more people than the US military casualties in World War Two. And it wasn’t until a couple days ago that there was any national recognition of that grim fact. Around the world, well over two million people have died and one hundred million have been sickened. But those statistics do not convey the essence of individual lives. That task falls to us – the living. Memorials capture a minuscule fraction of lives lost. Speeches are made, funerals held and graves filled. But the living flame is not fully extinguished until the last memory fades to smoke. What we remember of those we love is our sacred treasure.
When I taught literature, I would teach about how artists/writers can grant a measure of immortality to people. The subject of the Mona Lisa (Lisa del Giocondo) or Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 who was a good friend of Shakespeare’s. Whenever I taught Shakespeare, I would teach this sonnet and tell my students of my best friend who died far too young. I thanked them for letting me keep alive a spark of my dear friend’s brief life. Take stock of what you carry with you in your heart and soul. Nurture that which makes your life better. And keep moving forward. To quote the couplet at the end of Sonnet 18:
…So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.