Thursday, September 17, 2015

What Should I Remember?

Dear Teachers,

I was paying a visit to my mom in her Assisted Living facility the other day, and as I was waiting for the elevator, I overheard one of the residents (or "inmates," as my mother refers to them) talking with one of the staff members. The elderly resident was asking about an event that had taken place the previous day, and the staff member was trying to be somewhat ginger in her approach. "It was for 9/11," she explained somewhat hesitantly to the resident. "For the firemen and the police officers. Do you remember that?" she asked carefully. The resident replied, "What should I remember?"

Wow. What a question. She was addled, bewildered, childlike. Almost certainly she had long ago forgotten the music they played at her wedding, the subjects about which she and her husband had argued the most, where to find England on a map, or which of her children was the oldest. The question she posed was referring to her aging, faltering, tentative memory about a particular event that was being described to her, but her question has stayed with me, and can't stop thinking about it.

What should I remember?

A recent discovery of an unfortunate leak in a closet unearthed quite a bit of mold developing on a number of boxes containing old pictures and mementos. My own baby book and my brother's were among the relics. Pictures of my parents' childhoods, and my own, unseen for several decades. I found my children's baby books, and a box of their clothes...

What should I remember?

The smell of my Grandpa's cigar, and my uncle's pipe, and the ocean.
The exact color of the azaleas at the park where I went (not always willingly) on picnics with my mother and my aunt.
Playing ping pong on my screened porch.
Country western dancing.
The sonorous voices of James Earl Jones, Garrison Keillor, and Billy Collins.
Laughing uncontrollably with good friends, at every stage of my life.

The sound of my children's laughter, at every stage of their lives, and the feel of their tiny, soft, trusting, mittened hands in mine.
Every kindness that everyone ever did for me.
The glorious feeling of the warm sun and a cool breeze on my face.
Rocking my babies to sleep, and hugging my grandkids.
The smell of the trees in Oregon on a summer day.
The shade of green of all the flora in Ireland.
The way my husband looks at me with love, every single day.
How imperfectly I loved, despite my best efforts; and yet: I did love.

That Republicans, Democrats, Methodists, Catholics, Jews, Muslims; we are not so different, and I can love people despite our differences.
That everyone I meet is facing a hard battle I don't know anything about.
That most people are doing the best they can, and you can't really know about the choices they make until you've walked a mile or two in their shoes.
That there infinite ways that a person's life can be hard, and you shouldn't make things any harder for others.
That all of us could love a little better, and forgive a little more, and judge a little less.
That that kid in your class will only be that way for about four minutes, and you never know how he or she will turn out, or what your kind word or extra bit of help might mean to him or her.

That life is beautiful, and terrible, sometimes in the same instant, and that it is much too short and more precious than we could ever describe in words, and inestimably fragile, and heartbreakingly poignant and worth celebrating every single day - even though most of us don't realize that until the accident or the diagnosis or the lawsuit or the suicide attempt or the addiction grabs us by the shoulders and makes us face up to the horror and despair and beauty and joy and REALness of it all.

What should I remember?

All of it. I hope I remember all of it.