A View From the Hilltop: Don’t You Forget About Me

How to Forget a Bad Memory

“The degree of slowness is directionally proportional to the intensity of memory. The degree of speed is directionally proportional to the intensity of forgetting.” ― Milan Kundera

What speed is your life moving these days?

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I’ve written before and said to others many times that as I get older time seems to be speeding past me. The days are slipping through my grasp. I lay my head on the pillow each night and it seems I was just there a few minutes ago. I bought a t-shirt with “I though getting old would take longer” written across the front.

And yet, at other times I look around at family and friends who are busy with the normal activities of living and I feel as if I am sitting on a bench under a tree of memory still where I was so long ago. Time doesn’t seem to have moved much at all. There are moments each day when I am suspended in memories.

I believe that it’s important for all of us to spend time remembering events and people that matter to us. This helps to make us more whole.

Day by day, I perceive that my life is moving along at a faster pace and simultaneously there are moments when I know I am at a dead stop and all the rest of the world is shooting past. I don’t think this is an uncommon experience. The trick, I suppose, is learning how to balance back and forth between these two speeds of living. We must all stay on the bus as it hurls us through our life but also, when necessary, step off and sit on the curb for bit and catch our breath (or let the nausea pass).

“Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven,
Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I have given my first day of class speeches now. This year it’s different. We’ve come through another disaster. We’re getting through it, I’m reminded as I look out on my class full of young faces, many wearing masks, most with looks of uncertainty peering back at me. Probably not the same as usual. This time there’s something more, an extra tinge of worry. Or is that just me looking for something?

Last week we heard from an expert telling us all about the characteristics of this generation of students – a group that grew up feeling anxious and worried about their future. And then a global pandemic came and took away their high school graduation. It made me think that while caught up on the business of everyday activity, it’s critical to always be thoughtful, to let memory and reflection anchor action.

There have been two young boys sitting with their dad several pews in front of me for many years in our church worship. I looked up recently after we’d all come back from being locked out and isolated for so long. How did those two boys get so tall so fast? I think they each doubled in height! I can’t even remember so much of when my daughter was a child – and I was her caregiver during each day. I guess I just wasn’t paying attention. These days I’m always ready to shout out loud to my grandson’s parents, as if a meteor were about to strike, to be careful and remember as much as they can.

“Time goes faster the more hollow it is. Lives with no meaning go straight past you, like trains that don’t stop at your station.” ― Carlos Ruiz Zafón, 

It’s important to find a balance to your life by anchoring your pace to meaningful memory.

Maybe balance isn’t the right word here. Once we begin the habit of memory, it serves to stabilize our lives during the chaos and commotion that frenetic living often brings. This is what I mean by balance. An ability to stand on both feet at once, living and remembering, and thoughtfully move in the right direction.

“It is a phrase that may well perplex a poor modern, girt about on every side by clocks and chimes…For we are all so busy, and have so many far-off projects to realise, and castles in the fire to turn into solid habitable mansions on a gravel soil, that we can find no time for pleasure trips into the Land of Thought and among the Hills of Vanity.” ― Robert Louis Stevenson

There’s a balance that’s necessary between living an ordered life with a purpose and at the same time making time and effort to pause, remember and reflect.

  1. Memory is important because it helps us to anchor what we now do to what is important and meaningful – it helps us to understand a larger context. We must steal time away from our speeding lifestyle and create habits of reflection.
  2. Memory helps us to know how to feel. Our memory is a reminder of deep longings and essential emotions. When it first happened, we didn’t know how we felt. It takes time to understand what a feeling really means as we mature and discover new depths to our character.
  3. Memories become a language that we use to share and connect with others. They become a common bridge we can use to communicate deeper experiences – sometimes without having to say everything out loud. Memories are meant to be passed on to others, shared and used to enrich the lives of our ancestors.

“How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but—mainly—to ourselves.”  ― Julian Barnes

The moral of my post: sit down for a few minutes today and remember someone dear to you. Write a note or a journal entry. Say a prayer. File something away in your heart. Save it to pass on to someone who will need it later.

 

Just Like a River

I went to an Astro’s game on Memorial Day. As I looked around me and took in the crowd, all the fans and so many young boys in caps with their gloves, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of normalcy. It seemed like life as it should be. The past year of was a stomach turning shoot down the rapids at Stinky Falls in New Braunfels (where I spent my summer Saturdays).

I grew up each summer on a river. We camped out, fished, and swam up and down the wild shores every year. It was an adventure, I didn’t realize at the time, I was building into my memory. I just thought it was how every kid was supposed to “do” summer. So many of my summers in the Texas Hill Country were on a river. It gets hot in the summer! Not just the Llano, but the Comal, Guadalupe and Frio rivers are in my soul. I also swallowed a lot of water from each river every time I was pulled under their rapids. 

For me, when I think, dream and write about living, a river is the picture I paint. Those of you who read, know that this is a very common practice. If you take a minute to reflect, you’ll see that your life has had dangerous rapids, mysterious turns, predictable stillness, muddy banks and deep calms. 

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.” ― Norman Maclean

While we watch the enormous social changes talked about on our screens every other day – global pandemics, economic shifts, wars and rumors of wars, racial conflicts, new levels of political correctness going right and wrong… remember that the river of living keeps on moving – through every single landscape.

Ten perfect Florida places to float a tube down a river | Summer Guide |  Orlando | Orlando Weekly

Everyone has had weddings, funerals, graduations, surgeries, dates, doctor visits and a few planned trips. Our nieces, nephews, cousins and children keep growing up and moving on into their next chapter. All happening despite whatever current catastrophe or historic event is or is not upon us. It’s always been that way.

Living life rolls on, despite the larger than life crisis that might be looming over the next horizon. Most people have had to figure out ways to keep living, to keep floating, as the river pushes us onward. All of us know people who have struggled to keep their heads above the water. But the water keeps moving onward, pushing and pulling everything toward something else. 

When you sweep down the river rapids, hold your arms and legs up. The inner tube is blazing hot on the top from the sun. the sound of the water gets louder by the second. Keep an eye out on others ahead of you. Maybe you can quickly figure out someone else’s mistakes and make an adjustment or two in a microsecond. But, in a few minutes, it’s going to be all over and you’ll be shot out into calmer waters, sitting safely atop your tube or gasping for breath from under the current. 

I was telling friends the other day about how our neighborhood experienced the 500 year flood in 2017. All of us rushing through the roaring rapids. It’s now a memory and adventure, like so many others through time, to share around the campfire. At the time it consumed us. Now it’s an adventure story about navigating dangerous rapids. Here we are, on a different part of the river, trying to stay afloat in different ways. 

“Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others.” ― Robert Louis Stevenson (author of Treasure Island, among others)

I’m looking at old photos now. All those summers spent on those rivers. Sacred memories sealed into my everyday living like handprints in wet concrete. I can’t forget those rides through the rapids or the long peaceful floats. They are all one long river flowing through the living of life. In the end, what always matters is the time spent floating, mile after mile down the longer river. That’s what living is, really. Every passage of time, relationship we build, weddings, graduations, hospital visits, shared meals, road trips, they all matter. All compose the perpetual  float. I hope you like opera, this one never seems to end. 

Low turnout for Labor Day float down Sacramento River as Chico State  students are gone | KRCR

I watched a news story this morning. Someone interviewed a historian about parallel’s between now and the last pandemic, the 1918 Influenza Outbreak. Once it subsided we experienced the Roaring ’20’s. The news story was about the possibility that we might be leaping into a boom time, with bobbed hairdo’s even!

No one mentioned the Great Depression. 

Typically, after the ride down the rapids, few remember the first quarter mile of riverbank scenery. Too much excitement and relief shared among the floaters and boaters. The truth is, there’s always been a longer story to see, more living to swim in whether we notice or not. The wise on the river are able to pay attention and not get distracted by the siren song of past adventures or barely escaped dangers. There will surely be another bend, more noisy waters and care to be taken in the navigation of living. 

Being swept down the rapids, that happen now and then, aren’t the river. The young and inexperienced tend to look only at the fast waters. All the froth and fun distracts from the long view. As Robert Frost wrote, there are miles to go. The river is more than all the turbulence, rising floods, drought dried mud and deeply dark pools under the pecan trees. Sometimes, you have to go a few more miles before you’ll know for certain.

“I was born upon thy bank, river,
My blood flows in thy stream,
And thou meanderest forever
At the bottom of my dream.”
― Henry David Thoreau

As I lay my head back on my hot inner tube and feel the cool water run past my body, I know that all of this is life. As the sun starts to set, the frogs in the mud start their songs, a chorus sung for thousands and thousands of years. It’s more difficult to hear and now see that water rolling past as the darkness falls. Maybe a moon will rise up over the hill? Maybe I’ll get better at looking, noticing what’s always been all around me. 

A feather’s not a bird
The rain is not the sea
A stone is not a mountain
But a river runs through me
– Roseanne Cash