Two words which elicit powerful notions of a past that never was. It’s not your fault. The past is fluid in our minds. The memory of the past, more fluid still. We know the science of memory says except for those unfortunate few with perfect recall, all of us remember nothing of the past but an idealized perspective to protect us from our memories.
Memoirs are tales made, tellings of a place and time no longer truly remembered, only felt, imagined, dreamed of because memory is ephemeral, to view it is to change it, to rend it asunder and make it anew using our more seasoned view of the world as we know it not as we lived it.
This protects us from the pressing march of days; the ceaseless procession of time passing us by, from our perspective faster and faster; the older you get, the shorter everything seems to be — summers which seem to last forever as a child, vanish in a time-dilated blur as your final days approach, memories compressed to a white-hot plasma as their crushing weight presses down upon your aging psyche. So many memories, untangling them becomes impossible, a fusion of events, a sedimentary layering of psychological effluvia, unable to be taken apart, or even viewed except though the old 8 mm reel of our feeble mind’s eye.
As children, time stretches before us, apparently endless, to a child, a moment is as an hour, a glorious infinite hour, spent learning about a world ever vast, so much more so to the mind of a child whose mental currency is spent learning and remembering the world until it takes permanent shape in memory.
Its heat, at first blissful warm of skin to skin, etched in our subconscious, we seek the embrace of other lovers with that same passion a child seeks its mother’s milk, to assuage it, to relieve it of stress, to resolve its internal hunger, to the heat of the sun;
So warm, nothing ever feels as amazing as the sun on your face, no matter how old you are no matter the depth of you amnesia, the kiss of the sun is the kiss of our first dalliance with heat too hot to touch; to our final lesson when we touch fire, the first thing we learn hurts so bad, the pain lingers so long, the scar cuts so deep. Our first memory of a world which hurts us in a way we never trust anything again, we always hesitate after that.
Its cold, the cold of a world not surrounding us with our mother’s warmth, her heartbeat in our ears, thrust into a world, not her, we are never warm again. Not that way, not in this perfectly protected, whispered to, stroked, sang to, loved.
No, this is the cold of the world, a world whose only too willing to reveal a surprising lack of kindness we remember from when we were kids, if we were lucky.
This cold reveals itself as the pall of greed, of corruption, the desperate dance of power seeking to enfeeble the spirits of men, making them cold, and old, before their time.
Its brightness so bright, the sun is a daily miracle, its darkness so deep, so deep nothing ever replaces the darkness in the mind of a child, they are forever haunted by that first true night without light.
As we age, we expand our reach.
As children, the world acted upon us.
As we grow, we seek to impose our will upon the world. Here is where so much of our memory of the world is lost.
If we are unlucky, and so many of us are: We lose touch with the world.
The relationship we had with the world changes from the wonder in the mind of a child to the need of a adult seeking primacy, status, wealth, legacy; words without meaning and often without value, not because they don’t matter, but because they are words, defined by someone else, taken up by us without a true understanding of what they mean.
Then there is the awkward race through life to gather skills, education, abilities to chase a dream of someone who failed to manifest whatever dream they had for themselves. How many of us live as doctors, lawyers, professionals of whatever ilk lies bound in offices, leading meaningless lives of paper-shuffling, wealth-creating, soul-stultifying sheep, all agreeing this must be the right direction because the legacy of my family says it is.
Our memory of this time is a blur. Why? Because it is so pointless. Why bother to memorize the same Xerox copy of a day, day after day where only the marks on the paper change but don’t truly matter; mindless negotiations for slips of paper keeping score of a game no one remembers why we play but have all decided it is a life and death struggle similar to the one we played with lions and hyenas on the Serengeti those millennia ago, but isn’t.
What these days do is highlight the emptiness of our lives on the weekends. Our need to meet. Mingle. Date. Chase. Catch. Carry. Release. Repeat. These days are just like our weekdays, with the potential for greatness, but most likely filled with sadness, drudgery with the occasional bout of extreme organ-rupturing happiness.
For many of us, starting our own families is a moment which breaks the caul of memory, creates a sedimentary line delineating the separation from the selfish, ego-centric life we led and toward a pluralistic, family view, a view of something greater than you, something you hope will live the life you were too afraid to live and how you will set them on a path which will give them a life and a livelihood.
Some of you even succeed.
Most only visit the same thing upon their children as was given unto them; a fear of life, of making mistakes, of poor choices thorough poor information, through the legacy of generations either in wealth or in poverty; poor choices run in both circles.
These years with your children are the most memorable of your lives, good or bad. You raise them with no assurances anything you do will be for the good. You put in your effort, you make decisions, the best ones you can make given your station and then:
You roll the dice.
Your child is a product of its environment, its nurture, its intellect, its upbringing, its filial influences, how well or poorly it was loved. You are responsible for all of those things. How well you perform them is the testament to the understanding of your true mission here on Earth. Perpetuation of your genes, your individual genetic marker, unique, bound together, the alchemical wizardry binding proteins together in an individual composed of both cells and bacteria in equal amounts, the natural ecosystem of the world coursing through our very bodies; we are the world, each of us, as unique as a snowflake and thousands of times more intricate.
You don’t know what your child will do. Will it fly free, understanding the secret messages of your upbringing? Will it seek to backpack through Europe before settling down to college to study paleontology, which brings your child great joy, the dust, the dirt, the excavation, the discovery of that which was once all there was; tolerating the low pay, the general disinterest in science and the obscurity of the work still pale in comparison to the joy inherent in the doing, the knowing. Freedom from a life of shuffling paper, you continue onward toward your final review.
As we age, the caul of memory grows heavy. It burdens us. Blinds us. For some of us, it is so heavy we can no longer lift it. We can no longer peer underneath it to find ourselves.
Our mirrors reflect a face we find familiar but don’t remember its story.
It’s our face — we’re touching it, with no memory of the seasons etched in it, the highways traveled, offices served in, vacation slept through, late night binges of beloved television series and those weekly visitors, your kids; all of these thing leave lines in our faces.
Frown lines, etched between the eyes, lines with the power to stun children and pets in their place; smile lines around your cheeks and mouth, capable of ending a battle with an implacable foe before it even starts. For some of us, these lines are etched so deep we seem to smile perpetually, for others, our smooth cheeks belie our smooth lies, our failure to reveal our true selves, never too much, just enough reaction to get by, no commitment, no devastation losses, a life filled with moderation to an extreme.
Memory is a funny thing. Once it grows heavier than you can easily lift, you start to lose things. The name of a famous movie star you once knew but only in relationship to another more famous star. While you remember the famous star, the second luminary is gone, except for a good day when the scent of popcorn, the touch of an old sweater worn on a date so long ago when this movie was in the theaters, and you were with a woman whose touch excited you, made you sweat, and then you remember that movie star, bound within other memories, held together by emotion.
Pies, cakes, sweets, the scent of food in our homes bind the most memories, we are whisked back to the ideal childhood, edited for our enjoyment, blurred fuzzy at the edges for nostalgia’s sake.
Gone are the hungers, the cold or the heat, the too short pants the hole in the sock, the broken refrigerator, all of that fades before the smell of an apple pie, or a buttery cornbread filling the halls of your memories.
As we draw close to the end, some of us retain laser sharp focus on those events which defined our lives. We discover a way to shake loose the cobwebs of our memories and idealized or not, you write them down, perpetuating your wisdom, distilling your experience, giving back to all of us what you know, limited by your space in time, your location on the temporal grid, this is not a restriction, but a blessing to the reader.
They recognize you are somewhen else and yet their experiences are still like yours, they can relate, they can empathize, sympathize, reach an accord with, resonate at the same frequency of life, a decade, a century, a millennia may not be too much time, if the thinker is sound enough, wise enough to strip away the dross of life and find the very essence of their experience.
To lift the caul of memory and reveal the true wisdom within; life is not about your memories, its about what you do right then, what you seize, what you embrace, what you commit to — do you go quietly selfishly to the grave taking all that you have learned refusing to share even one truth you have gleaned from your miserable existence, everyone has at least one truth.
Or do you realize what life is truly for, and live every second as intensely as the law will allow, filling it until your caul of memory becomes a sieve of wisdom straining out whatever you can carry forth on the tide of your life.
For others to learn from your efforts.
Lift the caul of memory. Peer beneath.
What will you see? Can you share it? Will you?
Thaddeus Howze is a popular and recently awarded Top Writer, 2016 recipient on the Q&A site Quora.com. He is also a moderator and contributor to theScience Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange with over fourteen hundred articles in a four year period.
His speculative fiction has appeared online at Medium, Scifiideas.com, and theAu Courant Press Journal. He has appeared in twelve different anthologies in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. A list of his published work appears on his website, Hub City Blues.