Four years ago, I was sitting at a bar in a Mexican restaurant drinking margaritas. (No – this story isn’t going where you think it’s going.) I was actually on my second margarita, so I was past the point of gushing about work, friends, and the love life, and almost to the point of pontificating our purpose here on earth – I know you know what I am talking about.
Somehow my friend and I managed to get on the topic of family when it hit me that I had forgotten a monumental day in my life. I didn’t say anything about “the day” but shifted the conversation to a question I had: How are we supposed to keep track of all of our memories?
I did then and I still do wonder how we are supposed to make new memories and still have room for the old. It’s bad enough that as we age, we place more time between ourselves and the memory, but stashing new memories while trying to preserve the old? How are we supposed to remember all of the things that mold us? More importantly, how are we supposed to know what is important to remember what isn’t?
And why? Why do we have to juggle the good, the bad, and the ugly in our Roladex of a brain alongside everything else we keep up with on a daily basis? Why are we expected to? Who decided that this is how it’s supposed to be?
Yes, these are all questions spawned from the margarita sermonizing. At least for that day. This day. April 24th is the day my dad died. I’ve written about him before on this blog, mostly selfishly as it’s provided a simple level of healing for me, but also because it was a defining time, a mile marker in my life. But it’s a mile marker I’m ashamed to say I don’t always remember, or maybe not the way other people would. I feel guilty even typing it, but I often talk about it…him.. because I feel that I am supposed to at least remember the date. That I am supposed to remember him a certain way.
Last year, on this very blog I wrote that I don’t remember much about when he died or the circumstances that surrounded his death. I believe my words were something to the effect that “it was a blur.” That’s a lie – not because I intended to write a lie, but because I chose to tell myself that I don’t remember it when I do. I know exactly what was going on – what I was wearing, the face of the nurse, the color of the room, the placement of the window, where everyone sat, the pattern of the beeping machines, the stiff air. I can tell you every domino effect that came of that day as well, in order, as if I’m narrating a documentary.
But I’ve spent so much time reminding myself that I don’t have time for a bad memory and to focus on the good. I’ve denied myself the ability to think about it and even shamed myself for “forgetting” because I felt like I’m already supposed to be “over it” or move on with my life. That’s what we human do, right? When something is over, we move on.
What a stupid way to see things. Not because we should walk around gloom and doom or with our eyes set on the black hole, but because the black hole is always succeeded by light.
We remember what we did wrong when we fell off the bike and we don’t do it again. We know why a job didn’t work out, so we don’t place ourselves in that situation anymore. We know why we lost someone in a relationship, so we adjust our behavior. It hurts to think about the pain of the touching the hot stove, but you’re not out there touching hot stoves are you? That is not a bad thing. Shining the light on the bad every now and again ensures that we have a light guiding us in the future.
Sometimes we decide when that line shines and other times we do not. Despite our best efforts, we cannot forget the things that mold us. It is an invisible mark that will never fully fade. It may not be at the forefront of our daily walk, but the memories are there. We may not be able to pull them out when “we are supposed to” but they are still there. We can and do remember everything, just not always on our own timing. Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. Maybe it’s an indication that our mind can override our feelings. Or maybe it’s a reminder that we are not in control. But, then again, we don’t need margaritas to remind us of that.
“Memories are the architecture of our identity.”