To flee from memory
Had we the Wings
Many would fly
Inured to slower things
Birds with surprise
Would scan the cowering Van
Of men escaping
From the mind of man
Memory is a strange thing and there are times I wish I could flee from mine. Isn’t it odd how most of us remember the painful moments with stunning clarity while the joyous times go by in a blur? Why is that?
In the excellent movie After Life (1998 Japanese film) the recently departed are required to choose one memory to be recreated and filmed for them to take on to the next stage. After viewing the films the participant vanishes to an unknown fate. The movie does a great job presenting different types of people who struggle to come up with a memory. What is most important? What is the happiest memory in life? Some chose Disneyland or their weddings but others refuse to choose and feel their life is not worthwhile- not one memory. If you have not seen After Life rent it on Netflix. I promise you will get used to the subtitles. It is well worth the effort.
The great Thornton Wilder play, Our Town, has a similar plot. The lead character Emily must pick a memory to go back and view before moving on. She tries to pick an inoxuious day- her 12th birthday but in reliving it she understands that no moment in life is without meaning and value. In fact, it is the routine and ordinary that are often the most important. As I mentioned in a previous post there is a filming of a Broadway version of Our Town staring Paul Newman that is worth checking out.
I bring this topic up only because lately I have found myself drifting to memories, some of them painful. As much as I’d like to focus on the family vacations, hugs goodnight and nearly constant reading aloud, some of the memories that are the most vivid are the taunts, teases and frustrations.
There are two memories in particular that I can’t seem to erase from my mind (not that I want to). The first one happened in the 5th grade (so around 10?). As the chubbiest girl in school, I was repeatedly teased and called a ‘fat dog’ by my classmates. One day I was drinking from an outdoor water fountain and was trying to ignore the taunts. Eventually one kid decided it would be funny to push me into the water and shove my dress above my head so my underwear showed to the world. I remember this moment so well I could tell you the dress I was wearing. It was nautical with little flags. I’m a 30 year old woman and yet I still remember with pain the taunts of stupid 10-year-old punk kids. Why?
The other memory which stands out I am almost hesitant to bring up. My parents did such a great job with me that this was a rare misstep. Around the same time of the teasing my parents sat me down for a talk. I remember it as if it was yesterday. We were on our deck in Salt Lake and they told me I needed to go on a diet and that ‘I weighed as much as some grown men’. Then they gave me a tuna fish sandwich on pumpernickel bread with baby carrots. It was the first time in my life I was told I was fat by someone I loved and I think a bubble of childhood was burst. I remember feeling confused and puzzled at how I had let this problem occur and what I was to do about it? In the 20 years since, there has always been a part of me which has accepted my weight as my fault- as my great flaw, the one thing I couldn’t figure out or conquer. How could a little girl be expected to overcome such a problem?
Of course, now I know that I likely suffered from insulin resistance problems back then. In fact, with the early puberty, weight gain, and fatigue, the diagnosis is obvious. However, I did not know this information then- nor did my parents. To their credit they did take me out of school almost immediately after they found out about the teasing and put me in Reid School– a decision which changed the way I learned and boosted my self-confidence at a critical junction (and made me a passionate supporter of alternative schooling for my entire life)
In addition, my parents have been unfailingly supportive of me, no matter my size. The funny thing is I can only think of two other time’s growing up when they mentioned diets or losing weight again. No parent is perfect and no child is ideal. They did not know I had an insulin resistance problem and considering it took me the last 14 months to figure it out I do not hold it against them. I wish we had decided to get healthy as a family, instead of singling me out, but I know they did the best they could. I always knew they loved me. Like the Dickinson poem says I wish I could flee away from the memory. I wish I didn’t have it and certainly that it wouldn’t be so vivid.
Perhaps, however, I would not be where I am today without such memories? Who is to say? I don’t know, but I think part of this life-changing process is coming to terms with how I arrived here- the good times and the bad.