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A Grief Observed (On Memory)




Remember, remember the eleventh of July
lest you turn around and quickly forget





How can I begin to forget if I still remember everything?

The awkward beginnings and the uncertainty of what it was leading to. Sharing fries and a sundae on a bench watching people pass by. Waiting together like two strangers waiting for the train to arrive. The drinks to celebrate a finished day. The long naps while the world worked on. The beach, the water, the sun.
The plans and the dreams. The love gambled, consumed and spent.

As well as the fights, the anger and the pain.

But most of all it is the pain that remains, it is the pain which sticks to the mind. The mind seems to love that kind of suffering. It relishes the memory of what hurts it the most. It is a kind of suicide, too, you know. It produces the knife by which it strikes itself with. It finds too heavy the burden it creates and takes as one's own. And it does not want to stop at it -- like the song that continuously plays in your head without you knowing who put the record on. It's all automatic.

By the repetition of that memory, the mind somehow feels itself again, becomes conscious of itself. It finds out that it is alive for it can still feel. The pain most especially. For pain offers the most effective resistance to the mind; the exteriority of pain ruptures the interiority of the mind, and there, wounds it.

Amazed by this, the mind recalls and recalls that by which it surrendered itself unto. It touches the wounds as Thomas needed to do in order to believe that the Christ was alive. Look at it, go back to it, see it once again. How could such a thing happen? How could such a lovely sword pierce this heart. Wonder, wonder, wonder. The mind loves this. It keeps the wounds agape by replaying and reenacting the scene over and over again.

* * *

It's not that only pain is remembered. As I said, you remember everything. But I guess it is only against the backdrop of loss and grief that all the other memories are put in perspective and in place. There might be no point in reminiscing the happiness that embraces and seeps through your whole life if you were with that which you loved the most and with the source of that happiness. All you would do is to live through it -- the present -- and look forward to the bright horizon -- the future. No point in stopping to recollect yourself, no point in stopping to remember.

But when there is no more horizon to walk toward to and when the present is mere loss, the darkness of the past is all that can be seen. There are a few stars that offer some light, true; there are some memories that shine and offer some consolation and happiness. But such stars only glisten in the darkness, such memories are only fondly recalled against the reality of loss.

* * *

It's not that I haven't tried. But the world is too small for someone who tries to forget.

The places where we went to were once neutral. They never offered more than what they can give, that is, as a backdrop against which and in which love's story unfolded. Now they haunt me. Their neutrality now makes it possible for me to reinvest some meaning to them, to repaint on its blank canvass what had been. This room, that table, the street, the theatre, the school, the beach, the sky and the days reveal an unforgiving absence. They speak in their silence, and in their silence you cannot but remember. Recall, recall and see once again, they say. And the mind willingly places and replays her image all over again.


I tried to conquer the fear of going back to such places. I cannot hide forever. I tried to make new memories in those places in an attempt to cover over the past as one places new files on a stack of folders. It hasn't been that simple. So I stay in them hoping that her ghost can vanish if I stay long enough, if I be brave enough. Because I realized that I'm tired of running away. Tired of hiding. How can one hide from that which never sets?

* * *

But what is it that I still remember? What is it that I still profess to love when she is no longer here and when she has left?

How can she be in my mind when she is no longer anywhere near me? I do recall her -- her face, her smile, her laughter and anger. But that is not her. I have an image of her, a picture, a memory; but they are not her, are not her anymore.
How can I love a memory if it is only a product of my imagination that keeps playing and replaying it? Surely, I do not love her when I remember her; I merely love myself and all my images and memories.

Phenomenology insists that we never experience objects in themselves but only our lived experience of consciousness of any object. What I experienced was not her but my experience of her. Hence Pascal said that we do not love the person itself but only her characteristics -- characteristics that are experienced by my consciousness as being this or that.

But I do not feel that in any way. When I say I remember her and love her, it feels like it is her and not my memory of her that I cherish and still love. To love myself -- how can that be when I despise myself? It's supposed to be her that I love and not my experience of her.

But all I have now is a memory of an experience of her. And it is that re-lived experience that constitutes all that I have right now. It is all that is left to love but it is also all that remains to wound me. What else can I do? -- for she is no longer here anymore.

But to love her only as a memory of my experience of her: how can this still be love?

* * *


C.S. Lewis, in A Grief Observed, says:
How can I hope that this will not happen to my memory of H.? That it is not happening already? Slowly, quietly, like snow-flakes -- like the small flakes that come when it is going to snow all night -- little flakes of me, my impressions, my selections, are settling down on the image of her. The real shape will be quite hidden in the end. Ten minutes -- ten seconds -- of the real H. would correct all this. And yet, one second later the little flakes would begin to fall again. The rough, sharp, cleansing tang of her otherness is gone.
* * *

In that absence, you build images to hold on to, something to still gaze at. Then this image crystallizes and hardens. Alas, see all those pictures that you are left behind with: forever present but at the same time, lifeless. Like the picture of the departed by the coffin.

She is already slipping away, dying on me. Why not let go? Why not finally say goodbye? But should I let go, she shall be lost forever. Is not this painful memory better than totally losing her?

There is no other way.

* * *

Augustine asked, why do such memories carry so much weight?

How can the lost past where love bloomed still affect me in the present? Why are there some experiences which nail you down so hard that the world leaves you and you cannot move along with it?

Take me out of this pit. God, make me let go of the past. But not yet.


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