Category Archives: memories

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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The space between history and fiction,

As a writer, Sebald had invented an arcane aesthetic by cobbling together things imagined and things recalled; his essays and novels challenge the idea that facts hold a greater claim to truth than misremembered faces, overlooked details or overheard gossip. Aunt Egelhofer, who was real, was Sebald’s gateway to the world of the Wallersteins, who were also real. And yet their narrative hovers in a misty zone typical of Sebald, who was loyal to neither history nor fiction but rather to an unstable confluence of invention, memory, and imagination.

Photographs also play a key role in all of Sebald’s books, casting an aura of documentation and verisimilitude on the narrative, and yet they are also vague and unreliable. Blurry images and illegible handwritten notebooks emphasize the imminent extinction of objects, people, places, or buildings that are already, or perhaps always were, on their way out. Jews, for Sebald, personify the very essence of transience and extraterritoriality, residents of a might-have-been world that has known better days. Other lines are blurred in Sebald’s universe, too. As a narrator in “The Emigrants” writes, “I leafed through the album that afternoon, and since then I have returned to it time and again, because looking at the pictures in it, it truly seemed to me, and still does, as if the dead were coming back, or as if we were on the point of joining them.”

Andre Aciman, W.G Sebald and the Emigrants: How a friendship with two elderly Jewish refugees inspired the German novelist. The New Yorker August 25 2016

(From here)


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Making public what we want to get rid of

Live 2: Make Me Stop Smoking

I have been collecting worthless material for almost ten years now, taking good care arranging it, documenting it, indexing it, and preserving it from any possible damage… Today I possess what resembles an archive, or let’s say I possess a real archive that relates only to me: a kind of added memory that occupies different corners of my domestic space, despite the fact that I do not actually need it. It is an invented memory that is exhausting me, and which I cannot liberate myself from. For this reason, I will uncover some parts of my archive, hoping that by making it public I can get rid of its weight. This will be my attempt to destroy a memory that doesn’t know how to erase itself.

– Rabih Mroué (from  here) 

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The sister’s rabbit

Perhaps I was five years old when I spoiled my sister’s rabbit. It was made of a sort of pink velvet. It had long ears which were quite pretty.

One evening I put the rabbit close up to my sister’s cup of cocoa with the ears dripping over the rim into the cocoa. The lovely pink ears came out a dirty brown. My father, who was presiding over the evening cocoa, looked perplexed about the rabbit and about my action. He tried holding he ears under the cold tap but the stains remained. The ears later became quite hard, perhaps it was the sugar . . . .

Elizabeth Jolley, Meanjin 2010, Who Talks of Victory

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The appreciative memoir/biography

Her [Frances Spalding’s] appreciative biography of Vanessa Bell won her critical and popular acclaim; it is a long and well-narrated work. It convinces the reader that Vanessa was splendid— a game, kind woman and gifted artist, who led a rich, beautiful life . . . Angelica Garnett’s memoir, in contrast, like Dido Merwin’s memoir of Plath, is full of aggrievement and complaint and one doesn’t like her for it— as one ultimately doesn’t like it. We don’t want to be told what vengeful memoirs like Angelica’s and Dido’s oblige us to consider: that our children and friends do not love us, that we are neurotic, blind, pathetic, that under the eye of God our life will be seen as a mistake, something botched and wasted. The outcry against the Dido Merwin memoir was a cry from the reader’s heart about his own posthumous prospects, an expression of his wish to be remembered benevolently and not all that vividly.

Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes

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Finding courage

Interviewer: During World War 11, when you established some sort of record for experiences that women simply shouldn’t encounter, you were torpedoed off the African coast . .

Margaret Bourke-White.

It was a dividing time in my life. It wasn’t only dramatic, it went much deeper than that. I had the feeling that this was bringing out the best in people. There was such extraordinary courage. I remember standing there in the moonlight, waiting to get into our lifeboat, which was flooded by the flash of the torpedo, and I thought to myself that this was one time in my life when I had no idea of what was going to happen to me, I may live or die. Then I noticed several nurses standing nearby, and the way they were trembling, and I thought, ‘This must be fear,’ and I had to admire their discipline because aside from the trembling they controlled themselves so well. I think it was then that I realized that every normal person has great courage that’s just waiting to be called on. ‘

The Penguin Book of Interviews: An Anthology from 1859 to the present Day ed Christopher Silvester, 1993

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The relationship between our present self and our past selves

Extract from interview with Maria Popova, author of the wonderful Brainpickings blog.

Krista TIPPETT:  You wrote somewhere, “We are a collage of our interests, our influences, our inspirations, all the fragmentary impressions we’ve collected by being alive and awake to the world. Who we are is simply a finely-curated catalogue of those.” Which brings the word “curation” — which I understand you’re not as fond of anymore — into this — into the answer of what it means to be human, that we curate our lives. How do you think your sense of what it means to be human, that grand question, has evolved? How would you start to talk about that?

Maria POPOVA: Hmm. I think much of it has shifted from an understanding that’s based on concreteness to an understanding that’s based on relational things. That this notion of not just who we are but who we are in relation to our past selves, the people around us, the culture that we came from, the culture that we live in, all the different lives we’ve had. And for me, certainly, I feel like I’ve had all these different lives. I grew up in a country that is pretty much the exact opposite of my life right now. I grew up having nothing, and then I sort of clawed my way up and out. And now I live in New York City. And I am able to afford my own life and live my own life without worrying about things that I worried about for many, many, many, many years. And it’s so strange how we’re able to carry forward this mystery of personal identity even when our present selves are so different from our future selves. . . and from our past selves most of all. And I think a lot about this question of, what is a person? I mean, how — am I the same person as my childhood self? And sure, we share the same body, but even that body is so different. It’s unrecognizably different. Our lives are so different. Our ideas and ideals are so different. And to me, this question of what it means to be human is always a question of elasticity of being. It’s never an arrival point, you know? (from here)

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