It’s funny, the way we treat memory. We like to be nostalgic, even for things we knew were bad. Some of us (ie the author) like to live in memories instead of reality. We have this collective memory that lets us talk about forefathers and say things like “when we freed the slaves.”
Tolkien thought that maybe we had access to our ancestors’ memories, as if their lives are threads tangled about our DNA strands.
Trisha Yearwood has this song, “The Song Remembers When” about how a song can take you back to a certain time in your history. Clint Black has one too: “State of Mind.” I have a cadre of songs that I can listen to and they can put me back in a particular place and time. When I was a kid, we listened to a lot of country, and the good stuff from the 80’s and 90’s. The big-haired, rhinestone-studded, shoulder-padded music makes me feel seven years old again at the County Fair: trying to be just like my big sister, petting animals through the fences, and hiding from that mean, red-headed kid. Somehow in my memories I have Hank Williams Sr. and my Grandpa Charles confused. Though, in fairness, I thought the lyrics went something like “There’s a tear in my bear ’cause I’m crying for a deer.” I might have thought it was a song about hunting… and Smokey THE Bear. “One Toke Over” the Line reminds me of trying to be cool and coy and managing to get pulled over in the process and making a complete fool of myself (no mom, there were no drugs, promise), a phenomenon that characterizes my life.
Smell, is, of course, a potent memory charmer. The most potent, if I remember my reading correctly. I spent the night in a hotel Sunday, and thought it amazing how that hotel smell, you know the one– kinda bleachy, kinda used– that away-from-home smell brought back particular memories of being so exhausted I couldn’t sleep, but I couldn’t just sit in a folding chair anymore. You know that kind of tired where you want to laugh, but all that comes out is a kind of garbled “Harrgaragh”? I wasn’t tired when I first got into bed, but it was like all that time and mileage just caught up to me, and it was 4 am on a night long ago, and smiling took too much effort so I just sort tugged the corner of my mouth in a North Westerly direction.
Memory is a tricky thing. I read an article that said that we are actually destroying memories every time we access them. Our memories are like an old record, and every needle’s path cuts new, irreparable scars in the form. Then again, I am relying on my memory to relay this. Harrgaragh!
The new thing in physics (not really all that new) is thinking of time other than in a linear fashion. My favorite: everything happens all at once, and we only think of it linearly because it helps us to make sense of it. So, time is like a closed book. Sentences caress sentences. Words kiss words. Time overlaps. But we cannot read time in this manner, so we stretch it out, turn pages, rip events from events, put it to a timeline.
But if you think about it– actually, it’s better if you dream about it– even though our waking minds can’t seem to get it, our sleeping minds jumble everything back up into one tiny bundle that could fit on the tip of a pin. Just think of the old arguments about dancing angels: all of them holding up time on the very tip of a pin. Or don’t, if you are a Gaiman/Pratchett fan. And because time and distance are wound up in each other (if you don’t believe me, have a chat with your speedometer), then maybe even space is compacted into one tiny little book.
And so, when I’m far away from my dear ones, I’m really right next to them, and if I want to see the past or the future or another present, I just have to figure out how to let my brain stop processing for just a moment. All memories are my memories. All possibilities and alternatives are mine too. If time contracts instead of expands, then time lives inside of me, of you. Different for each, yet connected. This whole new world opens up.