Tens of thousands of things, moments, people and events, flow though our lives. Some hang on walls, many sit in drawers or boxes, some need a showcase, some need a speedy trip to the trash bin.
But it’s a zero-sum game, isn’t it? We all understand that matter doesn’t go away, it just changes form and remains part of this place in some form of matter or energy, it’s mass and molecules transformed but not eradicated.
But what about memories?
What is left of them when they are spent, lost – unrecorded, never to be told or retold?
What matters at all, when so much is lost?
A couple of scenes took me back – to my own memories, especially of two Saturday nights prior, in a hospital room. Spliced into this weekend was a play – saw it last night. I read reviews of it when it ran in Montreal and Toronto earlier this winter. The reviews were right – fantastic play “You Will Remember Me” , poignant and pointy, at times painful to watch but inescapably gripping because insight to dementia impacting whole families, comedic bits and clever writing made somewhat pedestrian acting performances into a memory worth keeping. Years from now I’ll remember the story, but not its storytellers.
A few Christmases ago I gave a lot of things away – my treasures, precious books and paintings, lumps of memory in every ornament, lumps in my throat about each one. I gave precious things to precious people so their value would continue to do good. When I visit, I can enjoy them some more . . .
I had to squelch speculation that something was wrong with me, that I might be off my rocker, going through a breakdown or dying …
But it wasn’t that I was unchanged. I realized then, that for me, best value of those things would come from someone else enjoying them as much as I had.
But those things would have such different value if they were just things. If we are not around to tell their stories, to explain their meaning, their history and non-monetary value, not about the price we paid but the experience we treasure, the memory we still have … while we still have it.
Sitting here, pondering rings and jewelry from boxes I found – I can’t help wondering how many decades each piece held meaning for my parents, why they kept them, what meaning there might have been for them, or between them. My daughters made their selections several years ago. They took items of my mother’s jewelry they wanted to wear, to keep. Now I have a handful of remainders of all those decades of memories without any stories to know why any particular pieces was important.
Should he have told me, should I have asked, and if I had, or he had, would I remember?
Would I care?
It is easy to throw out broken things and cheap things because I don’t know why they were meaningful, why they were kept, why they held value.
I’ll keep some items because they were my dad’s. Just because. There are some I know were precious to him, but what makes them precious to me is completely different from whatever his reasons were. One day, when they are old enough (while I still have my memory) I’ll give them to my grandchildren. But I’ll have to tell them a story, otherwise those treasures will convey no meaning at all.
Around my digs – most obvious are pictures on the walls or ornamental things, each one packed with memory – what this is/was, where I/we were, why it is important, what made that treasure so memorable to me.
In most cases, hardly anyone knows.
Is that important?
Does anyone need to know?
Picture on a wall, thing on a shelf, tells nothing. No story. Conveys no meaning – but I wouldn’t part with them because they mean so much to me.
If I wasn’t here, it would be just so much junk to anyone else.
I’m glad my dad’s hoarding kept some treasures safe. Had he not, I wouldn’t have much to decide, or much to go through. I would not have this challenge to learn, to guess, to decide – going through so many things I know little or nothing about – to understand their importance to him and their importance, if any, to me.
Going through my dad’s things – as I reduce to things to dispose of (clothes were donated to the Goodwill yesterday), things to sell, distribute and a few to keep – I am looking at things my dad kept, many of which were things my mother kept that he never disposed of and it causes me to ponder this question: just how much of us lives in each item, and who will ever know it?
Memory, memories, seem so much more valuable – worthy of passing on, than passing on by leaving only things. Things, in hand of a live person are full of memories, laden with story and sense of their real value. When that person is gone, or their memory has, things are just things. No longer valuable, they are worth their melted down value, or not worth anything at all.
column written/ published from Calgary
morning walk: -14C / 7F, a little dusting of snow overnight, ice crystals, sky clearing and nobody out. Cemetery silence as a little breeze blew across, most parts still submerged in slumped snow banks with occasional dead flowers, ornaments and flags sticking through next to the markers of those resting there. Gusta was full of energy this morning, hauling me up the long hill and back again without losing a step … while I offered drag and pace to the equation.
Mark, there's never enough time in our busy lives. I don't often find time to read your musings but for some reason, on a grey rainy Saturday, I learned of your father's passing. It made me reflect on time and as I said in the remembrance guestbook, I hope you will find peace in the memories and time you shared together. My thoughts are with you, JD, Vancouver, BC, .P.S.: Mark, personal treasures are important. Hold them tight! ;-)
My deepest condolences go out to you on the loss of your father. I enjoy reading your articles and I hope we can actually chat on a personal level on day, KY, Vernon, BC
I read your musings everyday so seems like I kind of know you! And I know how loss of father is, no words can describe that, DL, Invermere, BC
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