“Memories…May be beautiful and yet…What’s too painful to remember…We simply to choose to forget.”Bergman/Hamilsch “The Way We Were”
“Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open I’ll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I’ve stored away, just for this time in my life.”Author Unknown
It’s nearly time for my annual game of Holiday Decoration Tetris. In the past few years, I’ve downsized considerably, resulting in fewer boxes and bins, so the game has become less exciting, but it’s a challenge nevertheless. Before I can extricate the plastic tubs from the front closet where they have resided… pushed aside, ignored, and buried…for the past eleven months, I have to remove a big box of Easter baskets and artificial flowers that has been unceremoniously stashed on top. Then I need to move the extra, oak, table-leaves that are leaning precariously against the box holding my senior-citizen-living-alone-sized artificial tree. After all the bins have been liberated I will gingerly remove the lids and inspect the contents. To the casual observer, the contents would appear as a collection of inconsequential junk… little plastic sculptures, fragile bits of colored glass, and painted popsicle sticks together with scraps of paper glued and glittered. But, in actuality, they are the tangible manifestation of love and connection held together by memories.
Most of the holiday trimmings I collected over the years have gone to my children, been sold at the church bazaar, or have simply vanished in the foggy mist of time. The remaining boxes hold only that which is most meaningful. I have a large glass ornament that hung on my mother’s childhood tree. In its final years, it is nearly naked of paint and gold bits that once adorned it. I have a few brightly-colored, delicate treasures that have survived from the 1950s. I remember them from as far back as I can remember. During the 1970s, on the day after Christmas, I rushed out, along with many other shoppers in my small town, to purchase Hallmark decorations at half price. I no longer have most of those bargains, but the few that remain help me recall the love and joy of another place and time. Art projects from school, church, and crafting days at home hold special memories. I pause momentarily when I take them from the box picturing the tiny fingers that created them and wishing that I could hold those little hands just once more.
More than any other time of year, the holiday season stirs our senses and calls our memories into the present. I hear Silent Night, and I am singing with family and friends outside the Methodist Church on a long-ago Christmas Eve as snow freckles my nose. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and anise transport me to my grandmother’s root cellar with crocks and tins filled with Lebkuchen, Russian Teaballs, and Springerles. Reminders and memory joggers are inescapable. They surround us with connections to people and places we can only visit in our memories. The reliving often brings us comfort, smiles, and joy; but it may also carry feelings of melancholy, loss, and sadness; and an imperative to treasure the present moment and use it to create fresh memories that will give us succor in the future.
I’m not totally sure if it is an age thing or a Covid thing, but I have lived much of this past year…not just this coming holiday season…with a strong reliance on memories and a great deal of longing for the past… for the way things were before coronavirus, rapid-tests, or KN95s…or… at least the way I think they were. So it’s a bit disturbing when I consider the signifant role memories have been playing in my life…especially when I can’t seem to recall what day it is or why I went into the kitchen. I’ll be the first to admit that much of what I choose to remember has been colored by the rosy tint of my glasses. I’m reasonably good at dismissing those memories that don’t tell the story I want to hear.
“In personal life, the warm glow of nostalgia amplifies good memories and minimizes bad ones about experiences and relationships, encouraging us to revisit and renew our ties with friends and family. It always involves a little harmless self-deception, like forgetting the pain of childbirth.”Stephanie Coontz
In September, after a two-year absence, I returned to two places that have held great meaning in my life…places where my spirit is most at home…Stratford, Ontario and Star Island off the coast of NH. Before making the trip, I weighed the risks, precautions, and benefits. As I crossed into Canada and as I stepped onto the dock I literally stopped in my tracks to acknowledge just how lucky I was to be returning…stepping out of my memories…out of my imagining…and into a very tangible present. I seemed to slip outside myself a few times and view the situation with some detachment. I was a cinematographer searching for the best angle to capture my present while being aware that there were flashbacks and parallel scenes I’d want to incorporate in the final production. The present always contains shadows of the past.
In Stratford, I had tickets for live theatre. How amazing was that? After a canceled season, there I was enjoying two plays. A huge canopy had been erected and masks and other accommodations were in place to keep everyone safe, thus allowing the show to go on. I have enjoyed more than 40 seasons at the Stratford Festival, but this time I was there without the Stratford Gang or any family members. Just me. It could have been a heavy-hearted experience, but it wasn’t. Yes, I did miss having companions, but I could hear their voices, feel their laughter, and see them hurrying through the park toward the theatre hoping to arrive before the trumpets sounded. How could I be lonely? They were everywhere.
The following week found me on the Thomas Leighton, on my way out to Star Island. In June, when I would have normally been on Star, I was still hesitant about traveling. However, once I understood all the safety precautions being taken, I decided that I had to go. I knew that being on that rock in the Atlantic would feed my soul. A few other Shoalers also felt the island’s pull, but most of my friends would not be there. So much of Star Island is constant: the rocks, the wind, the gulls, and the waves, but the people give it life. I felt the absence of old friends even as the memory of their laughter, kindness, and sense of fun echoed in my heart, encouraging me to create new memories and giving me permission to make new connections.
Our memories, the way we tend to experience them, are sort of fuzzy around the edges, like a watercolor that has bled into the past and is not totally clear.Lisa Joy
I wonder. When we spend meaningful time in a place do you suppose we leave bits of ourselves…our molecules…in the bricks, boards, and stones? Do you think the memories we create in a place are like a form of our DNA? I have visited many sacred sites where the presence of ancestors has been almost palpable. It’s difficult for me to stand in a very old cathedral without being moved. The architecture is designed to elicit a sense of awe and wonder, but I believe it is the lingering memory of the human activity…weddings, baptisms, funerals, innumerable pleas for help, and prayers of thanksgiving…that inspires me…creating the sacred and making it holy.
People don’t realize that now is all there ever is; there is no past or future except as memory or anticipation in your mind.Eckhart Tolle
I saw a rather sad meme on Facebook recently: When the glue of the family passes away, the holidays are never the same. My first response was to sadly agree, but almost immediately, I had to admit that in reality, the holidays are never the same…they are constantly changing…we never get the same one twice. Wee ones grow up and elders pass away, and eventually, it is our turn to become the glue. It is up to us to create the magic and the memories. As I juggle the tubs, boxes, and bins, I realize that memories come out of those containers, but they also go in as well. Whether we are able to gather in person or if we once again connect over Zoom…we’ll be making memories. We won’t keep them all, but our favorites will be placed safely in the boxes and bins, waiting for another year when they too will be taken out, caressed, and treasured.
“When you are gone, the only truly important thing you will leave behind are the memories you’ve created.”Michael Hyatt; Daniel Harkavy, Living Forward