Where do those things go, these things that I remember, when I’m gone? Do they just wink out, like stars behind a steadily advancing berm of fog, or do they end up in some vast storehouse with no clear key to unlock them, the only possible key the straight line of my now-disconnected, now-decomposed memory?
Perhaps it’s a dour topic for a May weekend, the kind of thing that is more likely to occupy the mind of a cranky old man in need of a veranda with a view.
And how I’d like a veranda. There was one on the house I grew up knowing in Halifax, a long grey board-topped rectangle that probably only sits in the memories of my two brothers now. I’d like to sit and stare and gather things greedily into my memory — the lupines in the front yard, the strangely rounded gravel of Roman Nahrebecky’s driveway next door, the arches of maple branches over South and Henry streets — however wasteful that process sometimes seems.
But there it is again: disordered but particularly sharp-edged dots, made sense of only by the remembered order of experiencing them. My particular order.
Forgive me if I wander. That’s what you do when you’re travelling a path by memory — or, better, a path of memory.
We all have it, we all save it, we all feel it — you will eventually feel it, if you haven’t yet. That poignant flash, right in the middle of remembering something that happened, that poignant flash where you realize that everyone you experienced that moment with is no longer here. That moment when you become its sole custodian, and should you choose to ignore that moment, there will be no one left to say for certain that it even happened.
It is a jarring realization, one that comes at you when you least expect it: perhaps tasting lobster, for the one time you might get to do that in a springtime, remembering other lobster on a Maine beach, cooked in steaming seaweed over the coals of a fire and intermingled with the suddenly gaping shells of white clams. A place called Dan-Dan’s Beach, surrounded by scores of barely known cousins, uncles and aunts.
The aunts and uncles have all fallen like candlepins in a bowling alley now, and the cousins are so dispersed, so distant, that meeting them is like unearthing someone else’s sweater in your own closet.
But I can remember the long, rocky, angled sweep of the beach, the black knobs of greasy volcanic stone I sometimes found there, and once, in a sharp flash, two big attacking dogs that almost reached my brothers, my mother and I, before hurling themselves vicious against the windows of our old Volkswagen van, streamers of their angry, frothy spittle left clinging to the high side windows.
There are two left — though my brother George was only a toddler — who might remember that.
But what of the other times? What about the look of the side of a mackerel that will always take me back to fishing with my father at an old whaling station in St. Margaret’s Bay — back so long ago that there were a few times we were there when there were whales pulled up on the concrete slip, the water of the harbour red with blood and the steam winch sounding its ungentle steady grunt.
What about that first May warm rain, the one that leaves behind that special warm metal smell that wraps around you like a sleeve on an arm, and conjures up a dozen or more places where the rain was departing the asphalt as quickly as it fell, moisture of a mere moment?
What happens to those?
There are those who view all experience as sharply defined as if it were history, and us, in our fixed places in it, as immutable.
Others have overarching theories that seek to have all things neither created nor destroyed, but steps in an ordered continuum.
I’m not sure that works for me. Perhaps I am too pessimistic.
It’s not enough to think of everything as the sparks and flashes of Nietzsche’s eternal energy, flashing out of us but travelling on into the universe, invincible.
Nor does religion seem to hold the anchors I need: religion almost certainly requires a purpose for the universe, and what is the purpose of gathering and distilling the world into something like insight, only to have that insight locked in some other-worldly place, out of the reach of the places it might do someone some good, precisely when they need it?
Perhaps this is not the springtime talk of May, though May is when I feel it most. And something else as well: it’s when I realize that this is new to me, but would be old hat to my parents and many others for whom the years have shown this already.
We learn so much and can share so little. So where do all those things go?
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s
editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.