The gift of memory

One of the things we take away from our weekend workshops are the memories. Faces, places, people, conversations and realisations, all combine to create a kaleidoscope of intangible souvenirs that find their own place in the hierarchy of memory. We may share an adventure, but the memories are unique for each of us and it would only be by combining all of them that a true picture of the weekend would even begin to emerge. We each bring our own perspective to the experience, and what will seem unimportant to one may be awe-inspiring to another. Some of what we experience will seem so mundane that it fades into the background, barely registering its presence in our minds, some moments will make such an impression that they remain fresh and evergreen for the rest of our lives.

Memories are more important than we consciously realise most of the time. They form the foundation of who we are and, in many ways, define who we become. Our loves and dislikes, our dreams and even our most illogical-seeming fears all have a basis in memory and, when it is lost, through illness, age or accident, we lose much of the person we have always felt ourselves to be, as well as the person others knew.

It is not that the memories have been erased… they have simply been filed away and the key to unlocking them lost. This is something I have come to understand in a far more conscious way since my son’s brain injury…  all the details are still there, but he cannot access them unless he is given the right key. That may be something very simple and seemingly unrelated… and yet it can unleash a flood of memory and the chains of association reveal layer upon layer of recollection.

At our Northumberland weekend, I was given a birthday gift that did the same for me. The ceramic art reminded me of the Moorcroft pottery that I love with its colours and textures… which in turn took me back to running my own antiques stall, working with my mother and learning the trade, a day looking in awe at the glorious Moorcroft shop in Windsor with a friend… and the tiny plate I was given months later. It opened up a vast chain of details I had forgotten from my children’s childhood… a vintage fox fur with which two small boys chased each other around grandma’s shop, tea and buttered scones as Mum and I talked and taught the boys to play chess in the storeroom…and then back to my own childhood, playing in the toy shop that my mother managed and being fed sweets by Mrs Brown who owned both toy shop and sweet shop with her husband. The memories flowed…

The subject was bound to take me back… to a time and place when the world was opening its doors to me and I lived in a state of wonder and adventure. Paris… walking the wet pavements after dark, feeling my heart skip a beat every time the dome of the Sacré-Cœur came into view, talking until the small hours with the artists who were my friends in Montmartre… a time when the emotional rollercoaster of youth rode every high and low with untrammelled enthusiasm in a place I loved with all my heart.

There was something else too. The gift had been chosen because it would remind me, and that gesture of thought and friendship conjures its own memories, from first encounter to the birth of the Silent Eye and beyond… with all the faces and places in between… until past meets present and the future begins to reveal its paths at our feet, where yet more memories will be made.

Memory adds depth and richness to our lives and anything that sparks our innate ability to revisit a moment time through its good offices is a gift beyond price. Yet, we cannot and should not live in the past… even if we retrace our footsteps, seeking out places and people we once knew, the present and the past will never be the same, for we ourselves have changed, and hopefully, grown, often because of that moment in time to which thought and memory may carry us. We may never return, but the past lives in us and adds the colour and texture of its story to our own.

40 thoughts on “The gift of memory

  1. So true and a good compliment to Sally’s wonderful post about looking forward not backward. Memories are special but can consume us and keep us from enjoying the here and now. I love how you ended the post – We may never return, but the past lives in us and adds the colour and texture of its story to our own. Thanks for this.

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  2. Hubby and I believe you can never go back. Places and people are not the same as they were or how you remember them, and you are not the same person who left. Which made us pleasantly surprised when we returned to Cheltenham for my mammogram, staying with MSM who lives adjacent to the marina. We walked into town the following morning and nothing had changed. What was even nicer was that so many people remembered us and we were happy to chat. The marina is not the same though. There is no atmosphere, no community spirit, it’s soulless, but we have some wonderful and happy memories of our time there, and the friends we made still keep in touch.

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    1. Some of the past travels forward with us…especially the friendships and relationships that have touched our hearts. But going back is always likely to lead to disappointments unless we revisit with open hearts and minds and just a touch of nostalgia.

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  3. I agree with you Sue.. and when I saw my mother’s memories begin to fade I realised how important it is to find a way to store them offsite so to speak. Photographs were a great help and I love albums and have some going back to the early 1920s with both my mother and father’s family. I have a small Moorcraft vase.. I ran a cut glass crystal and gift shop in Southport in the early 80s and loved going to all the annual shows and picking out special pieces.. lovely post thankyou.. xxxx

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  4. My goodness, did you ever unravel golden threads! This is beauty and truth. When a moment triggers the memory, it is also reassuring to know that our brains have safely tucked everything away. Wonderful post, Sue.

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  5. Life, in all its many colors, changing weathers, happiness and sadness, love and hate, brings with it such amazing things. I think I once wrote about the landscape of life where things would be very dull indeed if the world were all flat. But it is the mountains and valleys that create the fullness of what is there for us to see and to live as part of our life pages. I guess no matter what it has in store, I am just grateful to be here and to share it with so many others. Thank you one and all.

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  6. Interesting post. My daughter now often comes back to me with a memory that has just struck her. She askd me if I can confirm, sometimes I can.
    Evelyn

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