Memories Are Made of This

Perhaps my title reminds you of the Dean Martin song “Memories are Made of This?”  For some reason Dean’s song has relevance to my blog this week but not because of the lyrics but more because of the sentiments.  The actual genesis of my blog begun last night when I was listening to a Christian gospel group called Glory Train.  One of the members (who is a friend of mine) did a number based on “memories’ he had of a friend who passed away several years ago.  The song provoked many memories in my own mind of growing up:  Memories of friends, parents, grandparents, good times and bad times.

I suppose memories can be classified according to some unknown typology or perhaps a hierarchy of memories.  We can have happy memories, sad memories, bittersweet memories, terrifying memories, romantic memories, erotic memories or angry memories.  I leave it to the psychologists to develop the typology or hierarchy.  For now, I am more interested in what provokes memories? Why do we have memories?  Are memories useful or do they keep us mired in the past?  Are we better off forgetting the good and bad times and moving forward?  Perhaps the answers to these questions are really trivial but during my reminisces about the “good old days” or the “bad old days” they don’t seem so trivial to me.

“The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant.” — Salvador Dali

It seems when I am reminiscing that the past is always nostalgic.  Life was easier “back when.”  Friends were truer “back when.”  Love was more compelling “back when.”  Family was more meaningful “back when.”  “Back when” trumps now in most of my memories.  How real is this?  Not very I think, except in the feelings which drip drop from my reminisces.  The past seems to hold the secrets which are somehow lost in the present.  Love, friendship, relationships, happiness, youth beckon; if only I could go “back when,” everything would be okay.  No more suffering, no more strife, no more toil, no more aging.  Peace, bliss and joy would suffuse my daily existence.

“The Greek word for “return” is nostos.  Algos means “suffering.” So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.” — Milan Kundera

The ghosts of the past are like shadows on the wall.  Mom, dad, grandparents, old friends, old wives, God-parents, fond aunts and uncles, I see vestiges of them flitting here and there.  I hear echoes of old conversations and phases that once dominated the lives we shared together.  I taste the treats and meals that were conspicuous on holidays and special occurrences.  Every memory is pierced with a pain of loss and the sorrow of ending.  The bad times, the bad food, the bad people are all forgotten as my spirit flashes back to a past that has been sanitized by the passage of time.  I sometimes feel like I am living in an old episode of Twilight Zone.  Memories, people, events, stream by as I observe from the sidelines and occasionally grab a passing snapshot with my digital camera.  It records only the good, but the pictures are ethereal and they soon fade away.

“One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory.” — Rita Mae Brown

A tragedy of life seems to be that the older we get, the more memories we have.  Young people have fewer memories and thus have the satisfaction of not having to remember the “good old days.”  In fact, try talking to anyone from a younger generation about the good old days and see how long the conversation will last.  Whatever generation you are from, Depression, Greatest, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y or Millenniums, the newest generation will be the “young” generation and the other generations will be old.  As we age, there are more and more younger generations.  As a Baby Boomer, I have to put up with three other generations and if I live long enough perhaps a fourth.  I feel sorry for anyone born in the early part of the twentieth century who must now have to understand and deal with five or six other generations.

Imagine comparing memories with someone who was born in 1910 or 2001?  Not only do we have very different experiences but we deal with a sort of phenomenological dimension which cannot be translated not matter how many books you read about understanding the “other’ generation.  For instance, my experience and expectations related to war will be totally different from anyone who was born in 1910 or 2001.  War was once seen as rather heroic to some people.  Now we are seeing more resistance and revulsion to war for any reason except for an outright attack.  Imagine the comment that was made by Winston Churchill in a letter to a friend:

“I think a curse should rest on me — because I love this war. I know it’s smashing and shattering the lives of thousands every moment — and yet — I can’t help it — I enjoy every second of it.”  — Winston Churchill

Memories are made by taking the dross out of the past.  What is left are those reminisces which cause the aches in our soul, the hunger for the good old days and the desire to revisit the places and times of our youth.  The good old days, the good old places and the good old people are stripped of the impurities which were once a part of the reality that we lived in.  The memories we have today and that we think of as our past reality are sanitized versions of a life that would not look anything like our current reminisces. The “good old days” were never that good or great or wonderful.  The past is only a stepping stone to the future.  The days of tomorrow will inevitably be better than the days of yesterday.  Just as progress is made by going up, so the future is made by building on the mistakes of the past.  The good old days are yet to come.  One should pine for the future and not the past.  Sadly, the future will all too soon be remembered as the good old days.  “Whence cometh the good New days?”

“Look not mournfully into the past, it comes not back again. Wisely improve the present, it is thine. Go forth to meet the shadowy future without fear and with a manly heart.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

We all have memories; some good, some bad and some indifferent. Memories of what might have been or what should have been.  Memories of things left unsaid, events left unheralded and opportunities left unrequited.  Each memory we have is a page in our book of life.  One day our last page will be written. We will then become a memory in somebody else’s book of life.  I used to believe that having no regrets was the best way to live my life.  No regrets, no nostalgia, and no sorrow for the things I did or did not do.  Move on.  As I approach my final years, I am not so sure that I would want no regrets.  For me, regrets are a part of my life.  They are a reminder that I made mistakes, took the wrong paths and seized the wrong opportunities.  They are a reminder of the friends and relatives I did not have enough time for.  They are a reminder that life is much shorter for some of us than others and that no minute or even second should ever be squandered.

There are those who believe in an afterlife. A place where the dead are reunited with their former loved ones. I can see the allure of such a place but alas, I have no firm conviction that one exists.  If indeed it does; what a joyous place it would be.  A place where my mother, father, sister, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and so many friends whom I have lost over the years are all alive and well again.  Is it any wonder that so many people want to believe that something else exists after this life?  A heaven or nirvana where new pages can be written but no mistakes can ever be made – a place where no regrets, no sorrows and no unhappiness exist.  I would say “save it for a fairy tale” except that I like many others have a deep wish in my heart that such a place exists.  A place where no such thing as memories, nostalgia or the past will exist.  A place where every moment is spent making the right choices, saying the right things and never needing to have any regrets.

Time for Questions:

What are your favorite memories? How real or accurate do you think these memories are?  Do you let your past stop you from enjoying the present?  Would you go back to the past if you could?  Why?  What do you think the real value of our memories is?

Life is just beginning. 

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Greg Gorman
    Oct 15, 2013 @ 03:23:25

    Memories are made of this.
    1. What are your favorite memories?
    I cherish all my memories because, for some reason, out of all that’s happened in my life these few moments are how I’ve decided to remember how I’ve lived. Generally, the older the memory the more it’s cherished. Like the time when I was 3 and there was a coal fire in the kitchen and the firemen came and put it out and one of them put this heavy red fireman’s helmet on my head. I’ll always remember playing sports daily with my pre-adolescent buddies. More recently, the profound feeling of nature while cutting the umbilical cord of my daughter. I never want to forget any of them.
    2. How real or accurate do you think these memories are?
    I consider them to fully accurate because although they were created through the eyes of youth, they are vetted through the eyes of someone who has witnessed the lives lead by my 3 children on the way to adulthood.
    3. Do you let your past stop you from enjoying the present?
    I try to not make the same mistake twice. However, I try not to miss the same opportunity twice either.
    4. Would you go back to the past if you could? Why?
    I would go back to the past if I believed that I could right a wrong that I may have committed.
    5. What do you think the real value of our memories is?
    I think that they mark the path that was taken that has brought us to this moment in time. Knowing where you’ve been can sometimes provide insight as where you might want to go, or even what you might want to avoid.

    Reply

  2. johnpersico
    Mar 30, 2014 @ 22:45:23

    Thanks Greg, love you comments.

    Reply

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