What is Memory?
Is it a slice of thought residing within the recesses of our mind, and if so, where is that?
Here & now in the Present as I determine my Self qua Self do I remember playing in the water with my Daddy OR do I remember looking at pictures of me, playing with my Daddy in the water. . . recalling family commentary, telling me how I felt, what I wanted, what I understood. . . ?
Could it be both? If memory exists in a stream, moving through a life either along with or as a result of time, then it would be not only the event that makes up who I am (a daughter who played in the ocean with her Daddy), but also a girl and then a woman who remembers remembering the anecdotes and pictures based on the event. Is that so?
Is that also Memory?
In an Essay Concerning Human Understanding, John Locke wrote of the stream of consciousness which makes up a sense of our individual self. He declared Memory a part of that stream, and essential to understanding identity. According to Locke, we negotiate our past and anticipate our future based on the process of remembering.
Gabrielle-ness, then, is more than a culmination of the events of my past, arriving at the Present Self.
People like to remind me that my father will always be with me in some way, and perhaps this is what they mean. I cannot separate those layers of memories from the Me-Who-Exists-Today, nor can I undo the Understandings I have processed about Myself-and-the-World that have created the path I’ve trod. Like learning to walk, once accomplished, one has arrived somewhere, somehow, and in a certain way.
Remembering times with my father is an integral part of what makes me who I am today, and this explains a part of my struggle with his death.
Whether or not I am drawing upon a specific activity that sparks a particular and distinct memory, innumerable impressions of being in and near the water flow together in my mind as the most natural habitat for this creature that is me. I look at photographs of Baby-Gabrielle and Girl-Gabrielle . . and the satisfaction I felt then, I know now.
I nod to myself knowing the feel of wind lifting and pulling my hair into aerial patterns, and the inevitable tangles. The sun is my friend, and gives me a dusting of freckles across my nose and a perennial tan; I love storm clouds–when I’m on dry land. The ebb & flow; or the rise and sudden dip that is automatic rythym to a sea child causes a yearning for dark blue water that never leaves the. . . mind? . . . soul?
Surf. Sand. Towels. Seagull cries. Buckets & Shovels. Tide Pools. Sandcastles. Kool-Aid. Sand crabs. Jellyfish. Seaweed. Whale Watching. Laughter. Shivering-Cold-Chattering-Teeth. And always the surf. And the sand. Even now, I feel the itchy-scratchy residue of sand, alien to my Little Girl skin, which must be washed away.
After. . .
Dad, you were such an awesome pirate, and never better than when you read Treasure Island aloud to us at breakfast. (I cannot meet anyone named Jim without a flashback!)
I am a child making sand castles daringly close to water’s edge. This is a game I like to play; a race against time/ a race against the tide. Same thing? Will I finish the castle turrets with drip-decoration, window’d depressions and multi-storied balconies, tunnels & moats, walls and escape routes– before the tide claims my work?
I learn over time that tributaries and estuaries allow the water to trickle into the moat as I try to channel the encroaching tide, with my imaginary princess safe in the highest tower, until finally–WHOOSH! There’s always that one wave that knows no wall, recognizes no moat, and ignores the sandy bulwark. The castle becomes a dream. . . a memory . . . swept away.
How often have I stood at water’s edge, bracing myself against the pull of the tide, digging my toes into wet sand, sinking deeper, feeling the tickle of sand crabs? Staring out to sea with one’s feet buried, yet also feeling the pull as the water rises, is a form of contemplation. I gaze longingly out & beyond, past the breaking waves to where mermaids, selkies, and seahorses beckon, and I know my thoughts form bridges of discovery, too. The call of the sea can sweep you away if you’re not careful.
When you were in the hospital, during your very last days, you woke up suddenly:
I ask again: What is Memory?
I am in Chartres with my beautiful daughter who is so much a part of me but also so much better and more. . . yet my lingering memories stick to me like seashore sand. They scratch at the corners of my mind as I wake up early and tiptoe as I check on Amanda, sleeping. I am transfixed just watching her, and delight in every moment of her first time in Europe. Her happiness makes my heartstrings grow and glow, and yet. . . and yet. . .
Often, when I tell someone my father died recently, their countenance visibly changes in dramatic ways. Their visage lengthens; they look inside the self somewhere, deep and introspective. Their voice goes soft, and they reach out almost uniformly saying something like,
“There’s nothing like that kind of pain. It never goes away, but time makes it better somehow.”
They say the words aloud, but they appear to be talking to a private self. They each say they didn’t expect it to feel the way it felt. It caught them unaware. I see in their self-awareness now projected outward that they were forever changed by the experience.
The death and dying of my father are now a part of the Stream of Memories upon which I’m forming the Understanding of Life which leads to my Everyday-ness and my Future Self. So many things to think about. So much to revel in. Contemplate. Discover anew. Gaze at the Horizon. Leap. Get Swept Away.