THE SPACE BETWEEN THE WORDS, Post #30

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You can almost always find me up in the deep early o’clocks of the morning. The darkness at that time is thick, almost viscous. It’s paired with a friendly, companionable quiet, a middle of the night symphony full of the muted hum of appliances, a counterpoint of rhythmic breathing from those that actually sleep. I crave this slightly rambunctious quiet. In fact, I truly adore it.

Middle of the night is never boring. There is always something interesting to do. When I was six or seven I would sit on the floor of my room creeping toward the slice of light that came from the bathroom across the hall. If I got there I could read. And if I didn’t feel like reading of course, there were always The Presidents.

Here’s the thing. At some point I’d been given a poster that was ornately festooned with tiny cameos of all the Chief Executives listed in the order of their terms of office. I would sit there in the slice of light, squinting at the page wondering about each of them, memorizing their faces, mulling over pertinent facts about their lives, solemnly considering the glowing accounts of their accomplishments.   Lulled, I would feel calm even if I rarely slept.

These middle of the night encounters with the Chiefs were inspiring. So much so that I eventually read my way through the entire biography section of the Eagle Elementary School library. These were some of the books I read:

Anthony Wayne, Daring Boy, Amelia Earhart, Young Aviator, Albert Einstein, Young Thinker, Thomas Edison, Young Inventor, Crazy Horse, Young War Chief all eagerly snatched up by Cindy Adelman, Young Reader

These were good lives, weren’t they? These were important people whose whole lives were inspiring, uplifting. They had to be so, I knew it was so because their stories were captured for all time, printed on rag stock and double-stitched into cardboard bindings. That makes it real, doesn’t it?

But as I grew I came to know people, not just know books. To talk to people. To listen to as many people as I could. Even to love some of them. Every story I came to know was too contradictory, too complex to be committed to 249 pages of adulation. The stories I read when I was small were not the whole stories for any of those people. They couldn’t be. Because a snippet captured for posterity in a book isn’t the whole story for any of us.

Peoples lives: their messy, complicated, heroic, fearful, exuberant and sometimes perfectly imperfect lives, are lived in the light. But that’s not real the story. Instead it’s the intangibles, the space between the words of every person’s story that can truly make for a beautiful, lasting, and worthwhile existence, no matter how many years we have on earth.  That’s what’s real.

Those of us who’ve lost someone dear know all of this. We remember the warm cloak of kindness. We remember the way we loved and were loved in return. We remember the understanding that filled the spaces between words.

These are the things not written. These are the things that are felt. Good lives cherished for all time.

z”l CSH

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SHAPED MEMORIES AND A SWEET NEW YEAR

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I’ve long been envious of the verbal snapshots that the great diarists of the past such as Samuel Pepys or Winston Churchill. With a key observation, a pithy phrase, a few jotted words, they punctuated their lives in ink. I’ve always been amazed at how terse many of these daily observations are. Not verbose. Not show offy. Just a scattering of words that serve as bread-crumbed path to memory.

I was thinking about this, thinking about so many things really, as I drove drone-like along the highway, having once again helped set the year in motion, having sent everyone off to school once again. I miss them. I want so much to remember. I’m frightened that I won’t remember. I fret.

But remembering should be easy, shouldn’t it? With the touch of a button I can snap off a dozen photos, with another swipe I can organize and categorize them. With a final fillip I can even swirl them into a Sundance quality montage. The funny thing is, I don’t do this. I don’t really want to.

September is always a pull up your socks kind of a month.   New shoes, new teachers, new ideas, new beginnings. Moving forward, there is always the pull of the past, the fear of forgetting where you came from, from what brought you to this point to get you where you’re going.

I’ve stopped trying to remember everything. That’s overwhelming, impossible. But there is another way. Memory for me has become kaleidoscopic, ever shifting, always responsive to another twist of the dial. I sieve my memories, washing away the dross. It’s true there are gaps. It’s true my thoughts often aren’t always linear. Instead my memories are responsive to where I am and to what I’m doing. They’re malleable. To crystallize them, freeze them wouldn’t work for me. Because for me, memory isn’t a trip to the past so much as a path to the present.

So while I do take and keep photographs of those I care for they’re not the first place I look when I want to stir memories. Instead I’ll conjure images that are for me far more evocative and powerful.

  • Miniature cacti plants in an apartment window
  • A trio of tiny socks
  • Double scoop of Superman ice cream
  • A box of Lucky Charms.
  • A bottle of coke and a stack of Hydrox
  • Double- breasted pinstriped suits
  • A green-striped rugby shirt
  • A Charles Culver camel
  • “Bow-ties are cool.”
  • The elusive Charizard
  • The Strand
  • “Come, you Game Boys!”
  • Piles of Pocket DKs
  • “Just a slice” of pumpkin pie
  • Tins of Mandelbrot
  • Pizza Bob’s
  • A Double-Tiered, handmade, backyard fort
  • A deep green GTO
  • “Breathe”
  • A pint of Haagen-Dazs, a dishtowel, a spoon
  • Sunglasses inside
  • A giant bowl of cherries

The swirling thoughts that are stirred bring all of these people closest to me vividly back once again. These images are my rubric, my guideposts. To think in images keeps memory alive, not pasted into a scrapbook. It’s a brave and thrilling thing to do. It’s worth it to give yourself the pleasure of crafting memory instead of grasping for it.

The great diarists left themselves a map to recreating memory. I try to do the same. What a gift, what a joy! Once again my mind returns to the magical Richard Jeffries who said in The Story of My Heart,

“Full to the brim of the wondrous past, I felt the wondrous present!”

And that is just how I want to feel, how I hope everyone feels, as we once again sweep into the brace of September and onward to a sweet new year.