Conversations on Memory

Sometimes dialogues hit just right. They teach. They compliment the moment and open doors that were shut. They can be something more than the basic how are you’s and I’m fine’s. Recently I had a dialogue with a friend that left me with a wistfulness I hadn’t felt in a while. Maybe it was the dark of winter. Maybe it was the recollection of different times. What ever it was the conversation was a pretty kind of quiet, like the whispers in a tent on a warm summer night.

The conversation

You were up late. I almost replied but was too lazy to pick up the phone. That was the reply to the message left from the night before. He stated the obvious.

Good point. Why was I up so late? Dumb. I teased myself for my own bad choices.

And before I had a chance to think about it much more my friend answered for me. It’s revenge procrastination or something like that. I stay up late sometimes when I feel like I didn’t get enough quiet me time during the day. He pauses and the dots appear. And sometimes when I’m just wallowing in despair. He shares an incredibly honest statement. I understand that sometimes life is overwhelming and we don’t live in some weird joy-joy life. I respond. There’s plenty of quiet around here Oh…and there may have been a little despair last night as well. I let him know that I relate. I ponder the phrase “revenge procrastination” mentally complimenting him.

Existential angst? Why are we here? What’s our purpose? Or middle age angst–where the fuck did my life go? He throws out ideas that are sardonic and still laced with a little lightness to address my own admittance to despair. I catch his comment with Existential?—Not sure so I’ll blame it on menopause and hormone swings. I hate it. I also currently hate winter which has been too long and too cold.

Me too. (I mean I hate winter also) But my mental strife is more about where the fuck did my life go. He confesses. I read his words without judgement. Old photos make it worse, but I can’t stop looking and each time I wonder if I made a mistake? Did I throw away something good? Silly huh? After all these years. My dear friend is caught in the what if cycle. A terrible merry-go-round. He shifts gears. Did I ask you if you know someone who speaks or reads Ukrainian?

I think about photos. I take a lot of photos—all the time and I have many stored in boxes that I sometimes go through, sometimes with a full heart and sometimes with detachment. It can be safer that way. The photos are not bad, especially if they are good memories—life’s like a patch work. None of us really know what’s good and what’s bad until it’s all put together. And even if it’s bad, in the patchwork, it somehow works making an ‘end blanket.’

I let him ponder my optimistic thought. And I go back on the Ukrainian language. You didn’t ask if I knew anyone who knows Ukrainian. But I sort of do. I have some students who speak Ukrainian. Why?

I have a letter I’ve needed translated for 30 years… Thirty years! I am shocked by the number alone never mind the sentimentality that comes from keeping something for so long, stored away in a home that is the family dwelling, now with a wife and children. What is this letter from?

Back around ’91 I went to a workshop in Warsaw. I flew to Frankfurt and took a train to Warsaw. It was an old fashioned train. I’d guess it was from just after the end of the cold war. The train had those old hashed fold down bed cabins—six beds to a cabin. I met a girl–really nice. She barely spoke English at all, but we managed okay. It was cool. Travelling into ex-soviet Poland on a train. Me with a US passport, her with a Russian one. She was Ukrainian, living in Warsaw. The letter is from her.

We met once for dinner in Warsaw. I have two photos that are in the albums I’ve been looking at. Although they’re sort of memorized. Beautiful, sweet. Anyway—I think I wrote to her once I got back to the US. And she replied…some in English, but a lot in what I assumed was Ukrainian. I was never able to translate her letter. And, because of this I don’t think that I ever replied again.

For years I wondered what she wrote, and eventually I wondered what happened to the letter and then a week or so ago I stumbled across it in that box of old letters from my years in Canada when I was working on my PHD. I didn’t tell you this?

I was caught by his story and the lingering dust of emotion I imagined that puffed up from that box he saved. No, you didn’t tell me that story. You have ladies all around the world—seeds you planted.

Well only figuratively, which looking back is weird or amazing or maybe something else? And, I wouldn’t say all over the world, but I’ve met many people from many parts of the world over the years and the old letters and old photos really reminded me of that. And they remind me of the times. I’m sure you have even more connections–you used to travel a lot.

I think of my own life, post high school until today. It’s been a journey. I’m still on it but it’s different now. Soothing. Beautiful. I do travel a lot and I did travel a lot, but the connections fade. I’m okay with that. It’s only fair to each of us to stay present in our current lives.

Yup. He agrees if only in this one simple word. I continue—If I made a list I don’t know how many places I’ve been that still have people I’m connected to. Again it’s part of the journey. Literally. Metaphorically. I don’t know.

You are more outgoing than I am. I’m sure you’d have a super long list. It sounds like he’s created a roster in his mind of what my adventures look like. I have met many people, however, even with social media I have let people go and that is okay. I made the meetings but didn’t keep the people. They weren’t mine to keep. Not all of them.

His analytical brain takes over. It’s life I guess. Some people look back on the good memories and smile with joy. Others look back on the good memories with wistfulness, longing, or regret. I wonder what distinguishes the two types of people?

I consider his question within my own experience. I don’t know if they are types of people. Some of my memories are wistful, some longing, some regret. Some are good. Joyful. I smile at the idea that letting go is part of healing and that the past is the past. The negative parts are not painful once reconciled. The positive parts pop up like bursts of light reminding.

Maybe it depends on where one is at the moment. I feel like he’s reading between my lines well. Yep. Totally.

I have a great memory of wine and cheese when I was in college, sharing residence. It brings a smile to my face, but also a longing or sadness that those moments are long gone and that mood and time can never be recaptured. Does that make sense? Maybe we always compare the past to where we are now? I think it’s a kind of a mental defect. Maybe not defect but something to work on—appreciating the present, you know?

And that mantra of being fully present shows up for me. I do agree with that. However reflecting does give us a gauge on the kind of life we had and the kind of life we have and it makes us look at our current blessings and our past blessings. Memories help us figure all this out but being fully present does too.

My friend finds an analogy. You’re right and at the end of a good party, we don’t cry. We have a smile on our face because we had a good time. This is the same, but with a more expanded time scope, maybe. I verbalize how much I like the idea that life is a party and not a sad string of longing. That’s a really nice metaphor.

It’ll carry you all the way to the wake…and on that silly note, it’s dinner time here. Have a good evening and thanks for everything.

He went for dinner. I went for a walk in the cool night air. The moon felt low this night. And, I, walking in the winter darkness wondered about the patchwork of experiences and people I’ve stitched together that will take me all the way to the end. Gorgeous.

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