Monday, July 27, 2009

The Deeper Well of Memory

I went to Barnes and Nobles on Saturday. Nothing new. I bought two books. Also, nothing new.

One of the books I purchased was created from an NPR series called: This I Believe. The "This I Believe" series created a forum for everyday ordinary and extraordinary Americans from all walks and ways to share their life philosophies. They sought to answer the question, "What do you believe?" and to share that answer with others. It's been a thought-provoking read. I've enjoyed the journey so far and I am so thankful to those who have shared of themselves in these pages.

I plan to write my own "This I Believe" essay one day. It's an important thing to think about: what you believe. And it takes courage to put it into words.

For now, I just want to share one particular essay that touched my soul. Not because I think it is above the others; they are all equal. But, because it's a topic I can relate to so well: Memory. My soul found comfort in the author's words.

I believe that memory is never lost, even when it seems to be, because it has more to do with the heart than the mind.

At the same time my 44-year-old husband, Ed, was losing his life, my mother was losing her ability to remember. As Ed's lungs filled with cancer, Mom's brain was becoming tangled in plaque. She forgot how to start the car, whether or not she had eaten and which family members had died — including my father.

I became afraid that one day I, too, would be unable to recall my husband, not because of Alzheimer's, but simply because my memory of him might fade. So from the day of Ed's diagnosis until his death a year later, I set out to memorize him: his crooked smile and vigorous embrace, his woodsy smell and the way he cleared his throat when he reached the top of the stairs. I knew I'd always be able to recite his qualities — kind, gentle, smart, funny — but I wanted to be able to conjure up the physical man in my mind, as fully as possible, when he was gone.Back then, I thought memory was a deliberate, cognitive process, like remembering multiplication tables or lyrics or where the keys were. Unable to rescue Ed from cancer, I was determined to save him from the only thing worse than dying:being forgotten.

Later I learned that memory has a will of its own. You can't control it any more that you can influence the weather. When it springs up, a person loved and lost is found, if only for a few seconds.

Recently when I was driving, I had a deep and sudden sense of Ed and the way it felt to have him next to me in the car. My body softened as it used to when we were together seven years ago, living a shared life. I wasn't remembering his face or the way he walked; the careful details I had stored had nothing to do with this moment in the car. Looking in the rearview mirror, I recognized in my own face the same look I once saw on my mother's face in the nursing home. I had asked her a question about my father, and she became confused about his identity. Yet, as she sat there, dressed in a shapeless polyester outfit, she briefly appeared young and radiant, her face filled with love and her eyes misty. Her brain couldn't label the man correctly, but that was not important. It was clear to me that her husband was vivid in her heart, a memory even Alzheimer's could not crush.

I believe there is a difference between memory and remembering.

Remembering has to do with turning the oven off before leaving the house, but memory is nurtured by emotion. It springs from a deeper well, safe from dementia and the passage of time. ~Christine Cleary.

God works in mysterious ways. I was having a normal day. It was nothing special. And then, I read Christine's words. And I fell in love with them.

Memory is so important, it's the lifesaver when you feel like you're drowning. The light in your darkest night. My brother lives in my memories. It is there where he laughs and hugs and is with me. Manny is alive in my remembering. The specific events, the exact words, the precise moments, may be fading with the passage of time. But I'll never forget what really ties me to my brother. What makes him my Manny. My heart will always remember how I love him. And, in the end, like the beginning, it's all about love.

1 comment:

Noelia said...

ok- you have a great ability to make me cry. That quote was so touching and applicable to so many different people, yes- even Manny- but so many others that pass through our confudled lives.