Column #5 Motherland magazine

Memories have been in my mind this week. Of course they’re always there. But the idea of memories. What they mean. A trip to my childhood home in Ireland has augmented the thoughts. I can’t get away from the idea that all my experiences there have gone, yet still exist in my mind. They are as real as though happening as I write. The games that my sister and I concocted in the hall (too ludicrous to explain). Nights and days and seasons. Family friends at dinner. Candles on outside tables. All the variations of light and shadow. Gone. But still alive in me. And it strikes me as I visit with my children, that I’m in the present of something that will also be a memory. I can’t get away from the idea.

I can’t get away from the idea. Why would I want to? Because there’s a nagging tug with this thought that pulls me into an inevitable progression. One day, I’ll walk through the house and many of the people I’ve spent time with there will no longer be, other than in my recollection. I don’t want to think about that. But of course I am.

I will always remember digging with my mother one particular day. She was 27, I was three. Nothing spectacular happened, but she remembers it too. I know that long after my mother has gone, this memory will be alive. So what? Part of me says that. So what? It’s worth nothing without the person. But then I have a counter thought: the moments we live can’t be worth nothing. So if you think the time you put in to living is important, then memories have to be important too.

Dwelling in memories? No. Choosing them over engaging in the present isn’t the point. But acknowledging that the past is alive in the present is underrated, I think. As anyone knows, chewing over painful memories puts you right back in the moment. (OK, then, as I know: I’ve tried it out, quite a few times.) That’s destructive. But this is the crux: if replaying bad memories has such an effect, it’s evidence of their power. So the opposite must be true. Therefore if I live well now, I am also imbibing memories with life. A kind of present-into-the-future tense. And the pun works too, because it is a bit of a gift.

Morbidity is not my thing. I don’t want to drag the living into death. I don’t want my mind to project sepia tones onto the present, which doesn’t need any filter. I’m not imminently facing death, and perhaps I would think differently if I were. But this isn’t about dying (even though it strikes me as the opposite of morbidity to consider that living well is going to help dying well). Establishing memories that are life-giving can only help all the steps I take in between now and the end. There will be pain, and bad experiences. Sometimes life changes in a way I didn’t choose. There will be gaping holes. But living in the present with an eye to the future could make the changes from one stage of life to another less brutal. How I am in relationships, the things I invest in, how I work, whether I choose integrity or don’t, what I say, how I say it – I’ll carry these memories with me.

So here’s the question: if we think of this very present as a continuous line, a moment that, in some form, will forever exist, would that change how we act?

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