Grateful for the Memories

Sunday, December 27, 2015

"Gratitude is what happens when memory is stored in the heart, not in the mind."
-- Lionel Hampton

I've always found memories fascinating.  

I suspect it's because they can be at once tangible and intangible.  After a memorable event itself unfolds, we can't just take it off the shelf to hold and look at again; we have to admire it from afar as we would a painting in a museum, behind the veil of subjectivity that comes with increased time and distance.  And because of our individual perspectives and interpretations, no two memories are identical, even if they're of a shared experience.  Memories can't be taken away from us because nothing physical exists to be taken away, only invisible threads of circumstance that wind their way through our minds.

At the same time, we do have a number of memory markers, things we can touch and hold and feel that elicit reminders of specific moments in our lives.  Photos are the best examples of these.  But what about all of the other mementos lodged in tiny wooden chests in our bookshelves, under our beds, in our closets, or tucked in the pages of scrapbooks and journals?  Maybe these include rose petals from a first date, or birthday cards from years ago, or handwritten letters yellowed by time and the oil from fingers leafing through them with a reverence that the past always begs.

Often, we don't realize we've remembered something until we remember it, and maybe it's the sort of thing we didn't think we'd remember.  Dr. Seuss echoes this paradox in the following quote: "Sometimes you will never know the value of something, until it becomes a memory."  This is a bit like not knowing what you've got until it's gone, and it has a bittersweet ring to it.  

But sometimes we know right we're in the thick of something, when the world seems to slow in a moment of perfect awareness and contentment, that this is the stuff of memories, and that we'll hold this close to our heart and look upon it with fondness for years to come.  These come in both milestones and in small, ordinary incidents, the kind we reminisce about with family and friends while saying, "Remember when...?"

It's the latter which I experienced a lot of this past week, while celebrating Christmas with my family in San Diego, because I could feel myself savoring everything: stimulating conversation, a sumptuous steak dinner at Morton's on Christmas Eve and the team effort that became the concoction of hors d'oeuvres on Christmas, the joy of giving and receiving meaningful presents, and everything else that came in between and made this weekend so (for lack of a more descriptive word) special and dear to me.  The time we get to share all together now that my sister and I are grown has become less and less, and I know it will continue to decrease as the years pass.  I know that someday we may very well be married, and spending Christmas with our husbands' families and our children.  I know that my grandpa is getting older.  I know that now is precious and irreplaceable, and that it deserves to be cherished.

I know, also, that there's a tendency to look back on some memories with almost too much nostalgia, with a feeling that "those were the good 'ol days," and that we should have appreciated how great such-and-such was while it was happening.  But the purpose of good memories is not to make us sad when we think back on them later, because we're longing for what we no longer have.  The purpose of happy memories is to make is thankful for all we've done and seen, to grant us perspective on trying days because we've experienced the sweetest that life has to offer, and to give us hope, because if we believe, as I do, that the best is yet to come, then the happiest memories assure us that we've got some inconceivably magical wonders in store. 

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