Even though I blame it on the lack of interiority from the flurry of holiday functions, the mediocrity of my last few posts has me cringing. So what else to do but follow the muse and hope I do better!
I found a moment of decompression yesterday evening and was brought to an inner stillness previously lacking. I was driving down the familiar, twilight-hued 101. The pinks, fading indigos, and a slash of crimson here and there glowed from a fallen sun, sliding behind my coastal range, the same tapestry of treeline that has greeted me my entire life.
Poignant was this deep familiarity, this love of my rootedness to this land. Even more stirring was that this was the backdrop for my visit to a friend whom I’ve known since kindergarten, my diehard playmate and childhood best friend. My visit was to celebrate and greet her beautiful, newborn, baby girl — at the same hospital both our parents first saw us come into the world, and the same hospital where I saw my father as he left it.
Heidegger got in grave trouble waxing philosophically of the value of rootedness to a homeland during the time and place of Nazi Germany. But during moments when a ghostly memory waves at me when I jog the same reservoir trail 20 years later, or driving by the field of my first kiss, I see a glint of his insight.
Not all of these ghostly guests are pleasant, as visitors of all sorts are welcomed in the boardinghouse of life. Before the holidays as I was amassing gifts for my family, I drove by the exit to a man’s house where I had once visited to pick up used toys for the battered women’s shelter. Though neither of us wanted to catch eyes, as he was loading my car, we glanced each other long enough that he blurted out a recognition of me from my childhood. Instantly I remembered him, the regular referree from my high school basketball games. It was a moment of good memory, nostalgia almost, a hiatus from an excruciating exchange between the two of us.
But the greater narrative took back its hold: He was relinquishing toys to me, but also hopes and dreams and a connectedness that belonged to his only two grandchildren — recently murdered by his severely depressed daughter, struggling in an abusive relationship, who then tried but failed to kill herself. This stoic authoritarian of a man of my childhood was now a fragile spectre, I imagine battling existential and personal demons I myself could not survive. And we both knew his swollen eyes needed a solitary, private release, between he and his god, if there was one left. I was his unwanted memory, as he is now mine, and I couldn’t leave him fast enough.
Bachelard dedicated a long text to the memorial, but his emphasis was that our memories can takes us to a place larger than ourselves. Back at the old familiar hospital, it’s almost like Bachelard stood over me holding my friend’s baby, only hours old on this prehistoric planet. He describes my inner reality, that place, or box he calls it, where I drop yet another memory into this native life: “In the box are the unforgettable things, unforgettable for us, but also unforgettable for those to whom we give our treasures. The past, the present and a future are condensed here. And so the box is the memory of the immemorial.”
Today’s Advice: “These fires have such a power over our memory that the immemorial lives dozing beyond the oldest memories awaken within us at their flame and reveal to us the furthest countries of our secret soul.” Henri Bosco, “Malicroix.”