It’s hard to be aware of what we’ve forgotten. It’s a paradox. How do we remember that which eludes our memory?
I’m not talking about old phone numbers or forgotten birthdays or the names of peripheral characters who have lived at the edges of our lives. Those are trivialities. But there must be things that were at one time important to us that we just can’t recall. Lessons we’ve unlearned, mistakes we’ve re-made, significant relationships we’ve trivialized.
I remember details more than most. I get it wrong some times, like we all do, but I get it right a lot. The specifics are really only the finishing touches on the painting that is our memory, our past. They aren’t the form, the shape, or the essence.
But sometimes the details count a great deal because it is in the details that we understand the bigger picture.
For instance, I’m not sure of the timeline of the end of my parents’ marriage. And my younger brother certainly has no idea, and now it’s pretty much lost to history. But, I have to remember that my father was probably 28 and my mother 26 when it was mostly over. Half my age. In my life, they were always my parents but in retrospect, they were practically children. I know what I was like at that age. It’s in the details where I can find some perspective.
I had a grandfather and a few uncles who died when they weren’t much older than I am now. They never looked anything but old to me when I was a child and maybe fifty in 1970 or 1980 was different than it is now but still. We haven’t changed that much.
I talk to relatives and ask them questions about what they may remember and sometimes they remember very little and sometimes there seems to be pain in recalling the past that won’t allow them to remember. Or at least not to share those memories with me.
It only takes a few generations for so much of the colour of the past to be entirely gone.
I guess I’m considered middle-aged but I’m not expecting to live to be a hundred. I may have a good chunk of the track left to run but I’ve turned left a few times already and if I’m not on the back stretch, I can at least see it. I don’t know where the finish line is but I know it’s never been closer.
We have some close friends who have young children. Kids my wife buys Christmas gifts for. Two under four and one under ten. I try to imagine what they might remember of their lives now or when their memories might really begin. If I were to die tomorrow, two wouldn’t remember me at all and the nine year-old would only vaguely remember me. I would be more of an impression, almost a shadow, that would eventually fade as she grew into adulthood. My name would evoke memories for her parents but it wouldn’t remind her of anything important. And I’ve known her for her whole life.
I do my best to imagine what world these children might live in twenty years from now. But I can’t. No one can. There’s nothing in our present that can allow us to see clearly into the future. The distant future. There’s barely a shape or form we can envision. The essence of things may not change all that much but a river delta has innumerable ways to the sea, each with its own distinct scenery and current, and we can’t always know which branch we’re riding.
Yesterday is becoming more and more elusive. Today continues to be an enigmatic puzzle with any number of possible solutions. And tomorrow is as distant as the stars. Beautiful to look at but rarely willing to show itself clearly.
We wish upon those stars and sometimes that’s really the best we can do.
If I were to impart anything to those three little kids it would be this: Remember your uncle Joe if you can. Live for the moment because that’s the only place you’ll ever live. And don’t worry too much about the future.
It may be bright but it’s always a little further away than you might think.