Category Archives: memories

A universal truth to be reckoned with

[There is] a truth that sits beneath the surface of the twin, universal facts of our beginnings and endings: the unequivocal triad of mother-father-self. Whether that triad is sturdy or broken, bonded by biology, affection or both, it’s one that most of us must reckon with, in some shifting fashion, all of our lives.

Cheryl Strayed on Richard Ford’s Masterly Memoir of His Parents May 1, 2017 The New York Times (from here) 

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A museum of mobile and grimacing images

In the first 11 years of his life, his family had been caught up with the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the Russian-Polish war. As Milosz wrote,

“When I reached adolescence, I carried inside me a museum of mobile and grimacing images.”

Sudipta Datta  reviewing  Milosz: A Biography by  Andrzej Franaszek, Edited and translated by Aleksandra and Michael Parker,

(from here) 

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Looking at a photo

           A Summer Garden BY LOUISE GLÜCK

Several weeks ago I discovered a photograph of my mother

sitting in the sun, her face flushed as with achievement or triumph.

The sun was shining. The dogs

were sleeping at her feet where time was also sleeping,

calm and unmoving as in all photographs.

I wiped the dust from my mother’s face.

Indeed, dust covered everything; it seemed to me the persistent

haze of nostalgia that protects all relics of childhood.

In the background, an assortment of park furniture, trees and shrubbery.

The sun moved lower in the sky, the shadows lengthened and darkened.

The more dust I removed, the more these shadows grew.

Summer arrived. The children

leaned over the rose border, their shadows

merging with the shadows of the roses.

A word came into my head, referring

to this shifting and changing, these erasures

that were now obvious—

it appeared, and as quickly vanished.

Was it blindness or darkness, peril, confusion?

Summer arrived, then autumn. The leaves turning,

the children bright spots in a mash of bronze and sienna.

(from here) 

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Proust says . . .

Proust says memory is of two kinds.

There is the daily struggle to recall

where we put our reading glasses


and there is a deeper gust of longing

that comes up from the bottom

of the heart


At sudden times

For surprise reasons.


Here is an excerpt from a letter Proust wrote

In 1913

We think we no longer love our dead


But that is because we do not remember them;


We catch sight of an old glove


And burst into tears.


– Anne Carson, Float

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Remembering and forgetting

Really to forget something you have to forget you have forgotten it.

Anne Carson,  Stacks (in Float, )

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‘Remembering’ what we don’t remember

I agree with Freud and many other psychologists that our memories of being a baby and a very young infant hardly exist consciously but do shape us subconsciously. Investigating as far as possible into my own memory, there are things . . . that take me aback. I met an elderly lady who had known my grandparents, and she said how fond I’d been of my grandmother. I couldn’t remember. I had memories of her, but I didn’t remember a very great fondness. But she said that whenever I quarrelled with my mother, I would run away to my grandmother’s house. And that after my grandmother died, I was found outside the back door, banging and crying . . . I thought, How very touching. What a Dickensian detail. But I don’t remember anything like that, you know. . . .

. . when I was having my bad asthma attacks, my father said he wondered if it didn’t have anything to do with me having been chastised so often in infancy, and he reminded me of my defiance over food and how, when he came back from work, he would have to spank me for not eating the meals. He hated doing it, but he felt he had to. And then, since this did not calm me down, I would go into hysterics and start banging my head against the wall. To quiet the hysterics, they would fill the bath with cold water and plunge me into it. Which quieted my hysterics right away. I’d be put to bed. One thing was that we were given a good-night kiss. Being put into bed, I would think, I’m not going to let her kiss me tonight. But I could never refuse it, somehow. I’m quite glad, because I think it did shape my character.

And see, this is the thing — I didn’t remember any of it. I only remember it because my father reminded me.

Alasdair Gray , The Art of Fiction, no. 232. interviewer: Valerie Stivers, The Paris Review 2016

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A child’s dream

One morning at the breakfast table, when our boys were about five, one of them described a nightmare he’d just had—the first dream he seemed to recall. He was walking in a wilderness when an invisible voice asked, “Who are you?” This blew my mind. It seemed obvious to me, if not to him, that the voice was none other than his own. So here were two selves confronting each other—one self unknown to itself—at least one of which was self-aware enough to ask humankind’s most existential question.


But once a new self realizes its continuity it pauses. “I will always be me”—always, how long is that? A self capable of noticing that everything around it expires can’t avoid concluding that it will, too, somehow, sometime. And so, right around the time that Joshua and Leo turned four, the hard questions began: What is “die”? Will you die? When will you die? Will I die? Are people made of meat? When I die, who will blow out my birthday candles—and who will eat my cake?

Alan Burdick, The Secret Life of Time, The New Yorker, Dec 19,26, 2016 (from here) 

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The need for forgiveness

The meaning of our lives cannot be found in books or lecture halls or even churches or synagogues . . . If God is love, and I believe that to be true, then we learn about God when we learn about love. The first, and usually the last, classroom of love is the family.

     The remarkable thing about this crucible of love is that the love we experience in our families doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it can’t be perfect, because none of us is perfect.

  Sometimes, that love is not only imperfect, it seems to be missing entirely. Monstrous things happen in families. Too often, more often than I want to believe possible, patients tell me what it feels like when the person they love beats them or rapes them. They tell me what it feels like to  know that they’re utterly unwanted by their parents. They tell me what it feels like to be the target of someone’s rage. They tell me what it feels like to know that they abandoned their children, or that their drinking destroyed the family, or that they failed to care for those who needed them.

     Even in these cases, I am amazed at the strength of the human soul. Even the people who did not know love in their families know that they should have been loved. They know love by its absence. They somehow know what was missing, and what they deserved as children and adults.

      When the love is imperfect, or a family is destructive, something else can be learned: forgiveness. The spiritual work of being human is learning how to love and how to forgive.

  That work is the gift we give each other, for there is little in this world people long for more than to be loved and to be forgiven by their mothers and fathers, daughters and sons.

Kerry Egan: On Living (Penguin 2016)

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I found myself saying . . .

… on this particular day I was feeling rebellious. My father was an exceedingly patient teacher, and I usually was a student very willing to listen. But on this day I found myself saying to my father, “No”. I wasn’t willing to try things his way; I didn’t want to listen to him. I wanted to do things my way. I wanted him to listen to me. We were arguing and we had never argued. I mean never.

“Listen”, Dad said. “I just want you to try something here”.

“No, I’m not going to do that. That’s stupid.”   Michael Bamberger, Davis Love III III … Every Shot I Take


In the month of December, 1993, . . . my wife Carol died very suddenly, essentially without warning, of a brain tumor. She was not yet 43, and our children, Danny and Monica, were but five and two. . . . .

One day, as I gazed at a photograph of Carol taken a couple of months before her death, I looked at her face and I looked so deeply that I felt I was behind her eyes, and all at once, I found myself saying, as tears flowed, “That’s me! That’s me!” And those simple words brought back many thoughts that I had had before, about the fusion of our souls into one higher-level entity, about the fact that at the core of both our souls lay our identical hopes and dreams for our children, about the notion that those hopes were not separate or distinct hopes but were just one hope, one clear thing that defined us both, that welded us together into a unit, the kind of unit I had but dimly imagined before being married and having children. I realized then that although Carol had died, that core piece of her had not died at all, but that it lived on very determinedly in my brain.             Douglas R Hofstadter I Am a Strange Loop


My parents died years ago. I was very close to them. I still miss them terribly. I know I always will. I long to believe that their essence, their personalities, what I loved so much about them, are – really and truly – still in existence somewhere. I wouldn’t ask very much, just five or ten minutes a year, say, to tell them about their grandchildren, to catch them up on the latest news, to remind them that I love them. There’s a part of me – no matter how childish it sounds – that wonders how they are. “Is everything all right?” I want to ask. The last words I found myself saying to my father, at the moment of his death, were “Take care.”                                                                                Carl Sagan


Alongside the cemetery there are woods. Alone at my mother’s grave, I looked up at the sound of rustling. Just beyond the fence there was a fox. It looked mangy and hungry. Running in what seemed to be aimless circles, it soon found its way into the cemetery and ran among the graves. It leaped up and sat on a headstone. I could feel panic rising within me, even as I told myself to stay calm. I would not be able to get to the car without passing the fox, nor could I safely go over the jagged chain-link fence. I found myself saying to my mother words that would not usually come from my mouth, Yiddish words that I once heard my father say in the name of his mother as we stood at his father’s grave, zeit a guter beter/be a good intercessor. After a while the fox moved further away, still among the graves but far enough now for me to say good-bye to mom and make my way quickly to the car.

In memory of my mother Sarah Chavah bas Yosef v’Rivkah, Rabbi Victor  (from here) 


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The power of memories that never leave

[On  the Russian composer Dimitr Shostakovitch }

 He doubted he could stop drinking, whatever the doctors advised; he could not stop hearing; and worst of all, he could not stop remembering. He so wished that the memory could be disengaged at will, like putting a car into neutral. That was what chauffeurs used to do, either at the top of a hill, or when they had reached maximum speed: they would coast to save petrol. But he could never do that with his memory. His brain was stubborn at giving house-room to his failings, his humiliations, his self-disgust, his bad decisions. He would like to remember only the things he chose: music, Tanya, Nina, his parents, true and reliable friends, Galya playing with the pig, Maxim imitating a Bulgarian policeman, a beautiful goal, laughter, joy, the love of his young wife. He did remember all those things, but they were often overlaid and intertwined with everything he wanted not to remember. And this impurity, this corruption of memory, tormented him.’

Julian Barnes: The Noise of Time, p168

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