Today’s entry began as a personal email to a close friend– a writer friend, to whom i can get away with writing long letters about nothing in particular. It left me thinking, then got me to pull out a book I haven’t looked at in a while, and write a little more. So, here they are, some thoughts in nothingness
If you have read a large part of this blog, you’ll know that memories and remembrance are themes very close to my heart. Not just that I like writing about specific moments I remember, but also that I am fascinated by the act of remembrance and what it does. Almost 5 years ago (wow) I had prepared a “program of poetry” on remembrance as part of the Speech Team at SUA. Found lots of lovely poetry on the theme, but the one line that has stayed with me is from Sylvia Curbelo: “Snapshots are shields/ What we remember in some way protects us.”
Today, as I re-read parts of that book (“Spinning Gold out of Straw” by Diane Rooks), i found an image that struck me. She read the the word “remember” as “re-member” i.e. to put something back together. Perhaps the most graphic and powerful explanation fo that interpretation of the word is in this West African tale she tells:
The Gift of a Cow Tail Switch
A West African Tale
A great warrior did not return from the hunt. His family gave him up for dead, all except his youngest child who each day would ask, “Where is my father? Where is my father?”
The child’s older brothers, who were magicians, finally went forth to find him. They came upon his broken spear and a pile of bones. The first son assembled the bones into a skeleton; the second son put flesh upon the bones; the third son breathed life into the flesh.
The warrior arose and walked into the village where there was great celebration. He said, “I will give a fine gift to the one who has brought me back to life.”
Each one of his sons cried out, “Give it to me, for I have done the most.”
“I will give the gift to my youngest child,” said the warrior. “For it is this child who saved my life. A man is never truly dead until he is forgotten!”
What a powerful story. Yes, that youngest child was the most important in the search.
In less dramatic ways, remembering isn’t just about life and death; remembering is also about the little things, which are no less important.
Today I was thinking not only of what it means to look back much later but also of what it means to look back right now. We often tell each other to “forget it” when we are upset or angry, to “move on” when we are hurt… and I do it too, believe we have to be able to move on. Yet, does that “moving on” have to imply looking away? I think not. I think it possible to look something in the eye, embrace it, and then move on.
Indigenous Mexican culture taught me a lot about endings– most importantly that they are just as much a part of a process as the beginnings. I learned that i didn’t have to mourn the end of something beautiful and special– or, i could, if i chose to, but i could also celebrate it, or I could do both. I remember my program coordinator’s constant refrain “hay que cerrar ciclos” (“one has to close cycles” but I prefer reading it as “circles”), and he was usually talking about internal, emotional circles. In that culture, initiation ceremonies and closing ceremonies were equally important… if you began a project, you had to take out a little time and energy to close the project, not just abandon it and “move on.” It felt a little forced at first, but I quickly learned to appreciate the importance of that moment, and I found my own little rituals with which to close important circles.
My last essay at SUA was called “On leaving college: a conversation with Ralph Waldo Emerson,” and it explored Emerson’s essays “circles” and “experience.” A quote from my essay:
Why circles? Circles have a completeness to them: lines can extend infinitely in either direction, but circles cover all the points in the universe that could ever be a part of this particular circumference. When you tie the two ends together, the circle is finished; although its energy may radiate out into surrounding circles, that particular circle is closed and encapsulates everything that happened within it.
I feel this way about my undergraduate career now: it’s been an incredible process, but I have by now gone over all the points in this circle. It is time to close the circle and move on to the next process. Emerson reminds me, “there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens” (179). The end of this process is only the beginning of the next one. And there is no outer limit to how far these circles will expand or how many of them there will be.
I don’t know if this makes sense in isolation, but that’s what I meant– needing to tie those tow ends together as a way of having gone over all the points in one circle… so i know it’s time to move on to the next one. The image accompanying this essay was one of concentric circles that touch at one common point (I hope you cn envision that!), and it’s become how I look at life.
Especially now, as I close one more circle, arrive back at the common point, and start drawing a new, larger circle that encapsulates all the ones up until now. Over the last few weeks, i find myself making gifts and cards for many people at work (I wish i could do it for more than I can, in fact!), and I’m realizing that, although I do believe that the recipients of those cards and gifts appreciate them, I am doing this as much for myself. Saying “thank you” helps me realize in my heart that this one, beautiful chapter is over, without letting its “over-ness” be a sad experience. I guess that’s what I learned in Mexico– I learned to celebrate endings just as much as I celebrate beginnings (look at their Day of the Dead! If a culture can celebrate death just as much
as they celebrate life, what greater example can there be?).
That’s all. If you were expecting this to come to some satisfying conclusion, it won’t. Not yet at least. It’s a thought in process, nothing more, so add your two cents please!