An elderly couple had been meeting at the same park every sunny day for over 12 years… chatting, and enjoying each other’s company.
One day, the younger of the two turns to the other and says, “Please don’t be angry with me, but I am embarrassed, after all these years, my memory is not what it used to be. . .What is your name? I just can’t remember.”
The other friend stares at her, looking very confused, and finally says, “How soon do you need to know?”
Memorial Day has triggered me (reminded me) to write about memories.
Memory is here today and gone tomorrow. Memories are part fact and part fiction. Barbara Kingsolver wrote in Animal Dreams, “Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth, but not its twin.” Memories are somewhere between imaginary friends and blood kin to truth. Either way, they are present at every family gathering, especially at many family gatherings.
Memories are like precious metals; not always located near the surface. Sometimes you have to dig for them and once you find them you have to verify them like biting on a gold coin to see if it’s genuine. ALL of it is precious; the fact and the fiction, because with awareness it can bring some new truth. Eureka!
Some of the questions about memory in my mind include,
How do you explain selective and recovered memories? Why this memory and why now? What is it trying to tell me? What am I hiding from myself and why?
For now, let me set the scene for some of these larger questions by reinforcing that memories only exist within the vessel of our minds. It’s the meaning we give them that counts.
A zen student was traveling in the desert and came across an incredible crystal clear spring. He loved the water so much that he put some in his canteen to take back to his friends and their teacher. After a four day journey, he gave his teacher the canteen and said, “Taste this.” A huge smile came over the teacher’s face. He loved it too. He thanked his student and passed it to another student. This student immediately spat the water out and said it was awful. “Not surprising”, he said, ‘After four days the water is stale.” He then asked the teacher,
“Why did you pretend to like the water? It is foul.”
The teacher replied. “You only tasted the water. I tasted the gift. The canteen is not the container. The water is the container for an amazing act of kindness. Nothing could taste better.”
Ah, he has this attitude because of his incredible crystal clear mind.
Applying the analogy for my purposes, the water may include old memories, some of which may have become stale and bitter. Your mind is the gift. You can appreciate ALL that you have been through, ALL your memories, if you have a mind to see them as a gift. You can hold all memories, and hold open space for as yet uncovered memories without letting the memories drive your life. The memory is the servant and not the other way around. Meaning is master, and you always choose the meaning.
Even the stale memories, the imperfect reminders of disappointing experiences, are a gift if you choose to receive them that way. If you have a mind to learn from them, the gift can still bring enormous gratitude.
The gradual unfolding of memories is a reminder that everything is as it needs to be in each moment. You can’t rush growth.
Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor who created the amazing Mount Rushmore Memorial, was once asked if he considered his work perfect in detail. “Not yet,” he replied. “The nose of Washington is an inch too long. It’s better that way, though. It’ll erode to be approximately right in about 10,000 years.”
Memory is a bit like that. We uncover that precious mental gold one piece at a time, bite it, shape it and let time and experience erode the imperfections of the past into a coherent whole. Integrate even the difficult memories, accept the memories that hint at their existence but aren’t yet ready to show themselves and move forward. In time, memories fall into place as they need to.