Lately I’ve been considering the memories that only exist in my own mind– those images or scents or feelings tucked deep into my neurons, often beyond language, that now, having passed, are real for myself and myself alone. Without me– they would not be. For instance…
The feeling of lying next to my mom; she’s on her side, knees together and legs bent in an L formation, the perfect resting place for my head. We’re on a navy blue couch in the living room; sunlight finds us through an overcast sky. Sometimes, when I was very young, I would fall asleep in my mom’s bed. I remember I would move just a little, stretch an elbow or a finger or a toe into the empty space to find her warmth, just to confirm that she was still there.
I also have this memory of being in a car– the seats brimming with people– thighs to thighs, shoulders to shoulders. I remember laughing– deep, guttural, gasping for air, laughter, the joke now lost to time. We were riding down a steep, tree-lined road–am I with my children, or am I a child myself?
I remember being alone as an adult, in the bathroom, walls pale blue, shower curtain black and white, lights bright. I hold the pregnancy stick in my hands. Two lines. Thank you, I love you, I whisper– to myself, to God, and maybe to the baby within me– for the first moment in my existence, not just one, but two. Not one, but two. Or maybe, not two but one.
What do you remember?
I think about how any person who had lived only one day would have enough memories to occupy themselves for eternity. Even if you replayed each moment– thereby doubling the length of your life– you’d actually have more reel-time than that. Because, after all, you might consider each scene from a variety of angles– seeing with the eyes of God, or an eagle or a mayfly maybe– the way the sunlight glints off your baby’s head that morning you were too tired to see it, the mischievous grin on your younger brother as he slipped into the closet just before you finished counting for hide and seek, your father’s patience as he played you in a game of Trouble– you see it all zoomed out and zoomed in– you focus on the details, yes– but you are omniscient as well– recognizing your place in the overarching composition, when that perspective was all but impossible before.
And right now- might I one day have a memory about this memory- about sitting in my darkened family room on a bitter-cold February night, lights off, fire on. Ellie perched on the arm of my rocking chair, Cohen sipping a glass of milk, discussing the ingredients of mayonnaise with Jacob and Sophie.
Each second, lived by me, and only by me– forming a perspective that is only my own. We each get to decide the story we’re telling, Jacob told Sophie the other night at dinner, Why not tell a good one?
I realize some of my memories are not mine at all, but instead have been passed down to me. I can see my grandpa on an October afternoon at the cemetery, patiently waiting until everyone had left the graveside ceremony, so he could scoop the earth back over the grave of my grandma. It takes me a minute to remember I didn’t actually see this- I heard about it from my dad– but I can remember it just the same.
I envision the future. In those moments before my final breath joins with the breath of eternity, what memories might linger before my eyes– transient and dancing, like candle flame on a wooden wall of a cold cabin, or indecisive snowflakes as they fall, meandering to the ground. Permeable, yes– but all the more enrapturing because of it. In those moments, what will I see? What will I sing? Who will I thank?
I once thought (and maybe one day will again) that we write, as Shakespeare said “in hopes [our] verses shall stand”— or in other words, in hopes that our words will live on, forever. But today, I fancy I write not to live forever, but to more fully enter into my own existence now. For what is this moment but an explosion of memory, a bursting forth of the infinite into Time, a singularity that expounds unceasingly? Image upon image, word upon word. Within each second and cell lies, as Rumi said, “the universe in ecstatic motion.”
Those images– buried in my neurons, that I and I alone posses. They are written, marked– not for those who are yet to come, but for myself, to settle myself into the abyss that is somehow also the Ground of all Being.