I think about time quite a bit, and about memory too.
I think about an hourglass glued to the table; the lyric of a song stuck in my mind for a lifetime. I can’t escape the curve of it, the gravity, the sensation of something you can’t really hold on to that’s slipping away.
I’ve been collecting rocks for as long as I can remember, on walks and on vacations. I’ve found them while helping friends move, on dates, and just wandering the neighborhood. Sometimes the sun shines at just the right angle and a sparkle catches my eye or they stand out because of their odd color among the other rocks. Sometimes it’s because of the feel of them—a smooth surface that’s satisfying when rubbed between thumb and forefingers. Whatever it was, whatever it is, I’m compelled to slip them into my pockets and carry them home.
These rocks I’ve collected are everywhere. In my bathroom on the counter next to my soap dispenser. On the shelf in my closet. On my nightstand in front of a picture of my children. I have rocks from Oregon, Wyoming, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arizona, Iowa, Colorado, California, and Hawaii. There are rocks on my bookshelves, in my kitchen, and arranged in a pattern across my desk. I have rocks from 40 years ago and also last week. Each one is significant because of the circumstances surrounding the moment I found it.
Each one holds meaning and memory. That is, until they don’t. As time passes I begin to forget and the significance fades. I can’t remember where I was when I found them—what state, what city, what driveway or parking lot, what hike, what park, what stream.
Over time they have become a reminder that memory is flawed. I’ve visited so many places and met many, many people. I’ve formed relationships and had incredible experiences. I’ve achieved goals I set for myself and I’ve made mistakes. I’m the hourglass. I’m the sand. I can’t escape the feeling it’s slipping away.
After a while, the rock is just a rock on a shelf. I forget completely and begin to collect them in a different way—by gathering them together and putting them somewhere else. I put them in pretty ceramic pots and interesting boxes and baskets. I use the pots and boxes as decoration inside the house and in the garden. I want to honor the idea that they are important as I’d honor any living thing and try not to fret too much about forgetting their history.
I don’t remember life at 5. I don’t remember being 15 or 25. I barely remember being 35 and this troubles me deeply. It’s probably why I’m so bent on documenting… everything.
I take a lot of pictures. I Write daily and post my thoughts and feelings to blogs. I save notebooks, paper planners, poems, scrapbook material, doodles, and to-do lists. I’ve saved every Christmas and birthday card for twenty plus years. I’ve kept notes exchanged with my first loves that I’ll never read. But I keep them anyhow, tucked away just in case. Plastic bins full of mementos buried deep in the castle waiting for no one.
By now I recognize all my themes and have to wonder if I’ll ever grow beyond trees and sticks and rocks and water and paper and pens. Beyond lamenting about the sun or swooning over the moon? Or if I’ll want to or should want to do more and see more and be more. Shouldn’t living each day be enough?
I wonder and I wander. I wander and I wonder.
I recently went to a dinner party where two of the other guests were therapists. And they talked a lot about memory. They talked about how it changes each time we access it and is seen anew through a filter that our current selves provide. The color and flavor of it altered by all the experiences we’ve had since the original experience occurred and was transformed into memory. After many years, it’s not the same at all. It’s an amalgamation of pictures and conversations and people and places that have happened since.
Was I a toddling tot in a purple sequin leotard twirling my baton? I only know this to be true because my parents say so, and because of that faded picture I keep in a box with other pictures of my childhood. There aren’t very many. Those were the days of 35mm film and the only shots you got had to be printed in a lab. It cost my parents money. Pictures were a luxury.
The two therapists also said that memory from trauma is not memory at all. It’s an experience that’s stuck in the mind as an experience and the person suffers from living it again and again. Sharp details that slice over and over day after day no matter how much time passes. The event is the same a year or five or twenty later.
The healing process requires transforming that experience into memory, so it can fade and become blurry and lose its cutting edge. Allow the bearer of the trauma to slowly let go.
Thinking about this makes me grateful that I have not had that kind of trauma or hardship in my life. Like most, I’ve encountered challenges and loss and carry grief and regret, but even my toughest memories continue to fade as I write this.
If I can’t remember the fine details, it means my life has been good. It also brings me a measure of peace to release myself from the grief I feel over forgetting where the rocks I’ve collected have come from. I take solace in knowing that each of those moments was special and that I don’t need to remember to recognize how precious life is.
With time, every memory becomes weathered, worn, and ground down into fine sand that’s slips through the sinkhole swirl of the hourglass. When it’s gone and I’m gone the rocks I have collected will live on. Perhaps they’ll find their way elsewhere to a lake or a pond or be carried down a stream to a lovely spot with other sparkly rocks. Perhaps they’ll nestle a special place where they can be discovered again by some other girl who fancies putting rocks in her pockets. Perhaps living each day in the best way one can is enough.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
Peace and love,