I used to be sentimental about a lot of things, but I ran out of room in my heart and for keepsakes. Now, I only keep the most important things. I try to limit my sentimentality but it’s hard to put memories away, even when you no longer need them. We spend a lot of time making memories we don’t need. You only need to remember where you live when you are twelve while you are twelve. When you are 25 or 86, it matters less where you lived when you were 12, but where you live now.
By now I’ve learned what they don’t teach in school, but ought to. People and the unique connections we form with each other can be like seasons. Some pass and some always return. Some are life-long and with those people, I want to remember everything. Some people you meet and want to keep forever, to sear into memory each unique expression and turn of phrase; the way of walking and movement. How they enter a room and the sound of each sigh and laugh. Mostly, these are colours that bring stories to life and I want to remember each story of the most important people.
But whether it is transience, heartbreak, betrayal, injustice, death or simply the way the world turns from time to time; we are taught to hold nothing tightly; nothing is forever. People will come and go from your life but sometimes, taken by surprise, you will whisper to yourself the question of another, ‘Can I keep you?’
Can I keep you?
I remember the first time I met my friend Bethany. I’d known her husband for a couple of years but in meeting her, felt a kinship that was special. I found myself wondering after laughing together, will I get to keep her? ‘Can we always be friends?’ I whispered to myself. I store up all the memories of our visits together, because I never want to forget a moment of her magic and wonder in my life.
It’s like that with my nieces and nephews too; paying attention to remember the funny things they say and how they play, their favourite books. I want to keep them preserved in my mind from age 0 til .. well, forever.
All relationships change the brain – but most important are the intimate bonds that foster or fail us, altering the delicate circuits that shape memories, emotions and that ultimate souvenir, the self. Diane Ackerman
What does it mean to keep someone?
Of course, I never set out in knowing someone to say goodbye; but sometimes it is unavoidable. Time and space dictate a mathematical impossibility in maintaining the intimacy and hum of relationship with all those we meet. You have to make choices about who to keep and who to let go of. Sometimes people will choose to let go of you and all of this is acceptable, until you have no choice in letting go. The problem with dementia isn’t keeping the memories at first, but finding them. My stepfather is losing his ability to make new memories so now he only has what he has, when he can find them.
Maybe if we keep less of the unimportant memories, we’ll make it easier to find the important ones. One step further, maybe if I only make the memories I know will count, then perhaps I can save myself some unnecessary grief and hold on to the important things, giving all my attention to those.
I meet a lot of people. But I confess I do not catalogue them all or commit each one to memory. I listen to stories, I pay attention, I am present with you and sometimes that is enough. Sometimes it has to be enough but it leaves me with a choice about who to remember, who to give the precious space of memory to, and that is harder than you might think. Once in a while, I meet a person that is too exquisite and interesting and I hear that small voice whisper again, ‘Please can I keep you?’
What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined – to strengthen each other – to be at one with each other in silent unspeakable memories. George Eliot
Should I remember the way you said that, in case later it becomes important? Will I want to remember what that expression means? Should I make an effort to store away this particular feeling in case I want to one day say, this was the first time I knew I wanted to keep you. This was the first glass of wine I knew we would be friends. I am tired of collecting memories just in case; but I can’t help myself but make them.
Life would be simpler with caveats on how the end will come. If you could know when people would leave you or when you would need to leave people. You could administrate farewells and collect only the innocuous memories, the ones that bring no harm. No need then for memories that are so heavy, collecting too much weight in the mind or heart.
But a life of caveats leaves no room for surprise. No room to change the rules and I am, by nature, a rule changer. Not a breaker, as much as a changer. I like the flexibility to change the expectations. Who says some things are unforgivable or that things must go a certain way? Why must beginnings be dictated by their end, before a proper beginning is even begun?
Oh, it’s the weight of memory that we carry from the time before and the time before that. We forget to reach for the stars yet untouched. We neglect to imagine what is possible, what may yet be. We know what it’s like to let go of memories we made with the intention of keeping them forever.
But perhaps it’s perfectly acceptable to keep some memories forever, without keeping the people. Perhaps that one unforgettable season is worth holding on, no matter what happens.
I’ve never tried to block out the memories of the past, even though some are painful. I don’t understand people who hide from their past. Everything you live through helps to make you the person you are now. Sophia Loren
When I see you now
there is room in my eyes to remember your eyes.
I have space under my fingertips
to remember the feel of your skin.
I remember now, the feeling expanding within
my chest cage is not sadness but space
– when did lightness become so heavy?
Oh, but it’s you, like an anchor within me.
An anchor in space
As light as the moon
Can we turn the moon upside down
Change the weight of gravity
Leaving nothing as it was
A star map to find everything again
When I see you now
there is room in my eyes to remember your eyes
I have space under my fingertips
I am only anchored to the sky
feet gently dangling on the earth
rewriting the stars.