According to the Yale Journal of Medicine Autumn 2015 issue, memories “are a series of links among neurons in our brains. Somehow, we turn these synaptic connections into stories that give our lives meaning.” The article describes memory as “a story. The entirety of our lives, real and imagined, is grounded in learning, thinking, and doing, making our memories inextricably linked to our identities.” Memory involves acquiring, encoding, and retrieving information to put it clinically.
Now, go and google Dean Martin’s song, Memories are made of this. For some of you old enough to remember the singer and his work, you may have already listened silently to the lyrics of this number 1 song of early 1956. Lasting two- and one-half minutes, the recording effortlessly evokes the stuff of postwar contentment: kisses, bliss, some grief, some joy, little kids-these are the dreams you will savor!
Early this past Thanksgiving morning, my mother-in-law, Rose passed away at age 102. She was kind, loving, gracious and generous until her last moments. She put the lie to the age-old image of an overly intrusive in-law. I was constantly amazed by the wealth of stories she shared, the laughs, the tears, the personhood she attained. This allowed her family to eulogize her publicly and privately. In his short story, Reconstruction, writer Mark Helprin described a character lamenting his father’s passing: What I want I cannot have. I cannot ride in my father’s arms. I cannot know any of the great store of memories he did not tell me.
By contrast, the conditions surrounding eleven-year-old Carlie’s “passing” require a different type of vocabulary. The words spoken and written are elegiac. Would that she shared her memories rather than being memorialized!
“I know for certain,” Leo Buscaglia wrote, “we never lose the people we love. They continue to participate in every act, thought and decision we make.”
The beauty in the eloquence of science is stunning but the poet/philosopher truly gives us pause. Late Fragment is a poem by Raymond Carver, noted short story writer. It is the final entry in his last published work. Dying at age 50, it serves as his epitaph. The verse is simple, two questions and two answers: And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.
As always, peace to the families on this February 1st, the nineteenth commemoration of the tragedy that unites us all.