“You may fancy yourself safe and think yourself strong. But a chance tone of color in a room or a morning sky, a particular perfume that you had once loved and that brings subtle memories with it, a line from a forgotten poem that you had come across again, a cadence from a piece of music that you had ceased to play. I tell you Dorian, that it is on things like these that our lives depend.” – Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
The subtleties of memory drawn out from the senses alerting us to moments linked forever to that certain smell or that certain song lies dormant in all of us, awaiting the awakening. We never know when something might trigger an old memory. I was listening to a podcast while driving yesterday and the person being interviewed mentioned one moment from his life that triggered a memory of a similar moment in my own life, and the rest of the drive was down memory lane.
I try to live in the present, with an eye towards the future. Living in the past does us no good. Lingering memories draw you into a different version of yourself, seen through the lens of who you are now. There are parts of the old me that I’m not particularly fond of, and other parts I reflect back on fondly. All of those parts built who I am today, and the me I might be tomorrow.
Memories aren’t such a bad thing. They keep alive the people and places from our past that might not be with us anymore. They draw a smile out of us in quiet moments of reflection, or poke at us for the foolish behavior we don’t ever want to try again. Memories serve.
“Loss brings pain. Yes. But pain triggers memory. And memory is a kind of new birth, within each of us. And it is that new birth after long pain, that resurrection – in memory – that, to our surprise, perhaps, comforts us.” – Sue Miller
So I guess the answer is to live in the present, but embrace the memories when they’re triggered awake by the senses. Memories can be like the lingering glow after the sun sets. Sometimes the afterglow is better than the event itself, but sometimes it’s a continuation of something pretty spectacular. Memories, like sunsets, ought to be celebrated. Even as we look ahead to a new and different future.