Posts Tagged ‘memory’

They say that we experience time linearly, and I suppose they’re right, to a degree.  But if time is stretched out in a line for us, then it’s lumpy, generally oriented in a line but twisting, running back on itself sometimes, and meandering along during the dullest parts of the day.  There are days that seem to slip by like a greased hummingbird.  Sometimes time feels like it’s not really moving, or that it’s almost moving backward.

I read somewhere that the new discovery is that time is a substance, like olive oil or pureed pumpkin pie filling.  While this is interesting and twists my brain, I can’t say that it actually means a whole lot to me.  Time, regardless of what it may actually BE, is compelling because of how it makes us feel and how we experience it, whether we’re philosophizing about it or noticing it waft by us on a summer evening on the porch.

Sunday melancholy afternoons are most poignant in the fall.

I like peaceful Sunday afternoons.  I don’t know why, but there’s an element of sweet sadness to them, especially in the fall.  The crisp air brings out the melancholy in the air’s autumnal bouquet.  And on those days, I tend to think of far-off things, like fairytales or people I used to know who have been gone for years, or childhood games I used to play with my sister, and then we would get so tired and our feet so full of grass cuts that we’d come into the house and have peanut butter sandwiches, applesauce, and milk for supper before getting ready for bed.  On Sunday afternoons I think of dreams that I have had before that probably won’t ever happen, or people I really miss that I probably won’t ever see again.  I think of Tommy Gronewald who I used to ride the bus with every day for two years in 6th and 7th grade, and I wonder what he’s doing.   My thoughts stray from what is and what will be (I need to go to the store, pay my bills; I’m going to have some friends over tonight) to what could have been: What if I had pursued music like I wanted to at one time?  What if I had made the decision about my job the other way?  What if I had moved to Oxford like I said I would?  Or even more fantastic wonderings: what if I had been born five hundred years ago?

I think that emotions are, to some extent, hard-wired into the rhythm of the day and night: mornings are jubilant and full of hope; late afternoons and early evenings are just made for reflection and looking back.  I think the melancholy of Sunday afternoons means something, but I don’t know what it is.

Reading the Lord of the Rings, it just so happens that I get to the chapters in Lothlorien on an autumn Sunday afternoon when the melancholy is thickest. How very appropriate.


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Memory is a funny thing.  I can remember the backyard of my childhood home and feel nostalgic, a sort of sweet memory that hurts.  I can also read and immerse myself in the history of World War II (as anyone who knows me well can attest to) and feel a tragic sweetness for that time.  I might wish that I could have seen those days, but those who live through them would tell me that this wish is ridiculous, and they would be right.  It was not nostalgic to live through it.  It would not satisfy my nostaligic ache to live through those days or to visit my childhood home again.  In fact, this often makes things worse—and everyone knows what it is like to not want to see something from our childhood because we know it will not feel the same.  We choose to simply keep the thing in our memory, sweet but not actualized. 


I was sitting in a coffee shop yesterday talking about this with my wife Melody, who is studying to be an archivist.  I told her that I believe that somehow there is an almost ineffable quality or feeling that we experience when dealing with archives and with memory.  I wondered what it is that we want when we long for something that is long past–something that we never experienced but have read about or heard about (like WWII), or some memory of our own that we have not visited in a long time (like an old childhood house or the feel and the memories of the neighborhood we grew up in).  We get a pang of longing, and even if the stuff we’re looking at is not our own, we often are overcome with wistful, nostalgic feelings.  Then I started wondering, what is it exactly that we’re longing for?  Because I do not long to see my childhood neighborhood again.  I know it will be different, and there have been times when I have specifically avoided going back and looking because I know it will not satisfy this desire; it will only make me sad; I will feel that the thing I wanted to see or experience is lost even more, is further away than it was before I went there.  


Our front yards are, painfully, never the same as we remember them if we go back to visit.

Our childhoods are, painfully, never the same as we remember them if we venture back to visit them.


I think that this ineffable thing that we long for is somehow related to our desire for something that is permanent, something that is outside the effects of time.  I think that this longing comes out of the human desire for transcendence.  This urge to archive or record our lives comes from a desire for immortality, or for a desire to escape our own mortality—almost the same thing, but not quite.  And our desire to know and get back permanently that which we know only in an archive (my great great grandparents, for example) is the other side of the coin; it is the desire to know permanence, to know the ineffable beauty beyond us, but it is always thwarted and turned to a bittersweet longing by the reality of our own mortality. 

C.S. Lewis wrote about this very longing, and he pointed out rightly that the longings of this kind (of which the longing related to permanence and memory is only one form) are times when our desire for God, our desire for home, our desire for transcendence is pricked by some small ray of light spilling from that Realm to our dusty, tired, and shadowed land.  The pang of sweet and terrible desire that fills our hearts when we hear a beautiful line of music, or a beautiful moment in a forest: any sublime moment is a spilling over from There to here.  Even the moment of wanting something that is not immediately attainable—the desire we feel to go back and experience life in 30’s and 40’s America, to see our ancestors and talk with them, even to see and talk with our own first father and mother before the fall—those things are real losses and will never happen, yet they point to a larger and greater Fulfillment of our desire.

It is in this poetic moment that we find ourselves taken out of time–one of the reasons why we create archives, I think.  We are able to experience a shadow of the thing we desire: to know outside of time, to always be, to be solid and unmoving, and to intimately know (experientially) things that will always be.  In the sweetness of a memory a person can linger in this twilight between the mutable and the immutable, between the temporal and the edge of the universe, between the cold hard granite reality of our own mortality and the frighteningly vast but warm infinity of the heavens: the unveiled realm of the Real, Living I Am. 


Who knew that something as lofty as a desire for the Immutable God could be found in a dusty archive?  Amazing.


Deus ex tabulinum

Deus ex tabulinum



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