My memory is a little messed up. In 2007-early 2008, I had severe back problems and was on pretty heavy pain meds for about 18 months. Within that year, I had three surgical procedures, each one requiring general anesthesia. As I came out of that time period feeling much better and reemerging into the world, I noticed that my memory wasn’t nearly as good. My short term memory requires vigilant note taking and reminders, and there are some gaps in my long-term memory. I recall once listening to a recounting of an historical event and breaking down in tears, because I knew I had once known those facts but could no longer reach them. I didn’t lose everything, but I know that the act of remembering takes a little more work.
But there are some memories I wish I didn’t still have.
I wish I didn’t remember what it was like reading names at displays of the AIDS quilt when I read names at the Transgender Day of Remembrance. While others broke down – a reasonable reaction – I found I could, as I learned in the late 1980s, to read with emotion without getting emotional.
I wish I didn’t remember the moment-by-moment experience of the homeless Desert Storm vet running in front of my car that rainy night in 2006 when last week I sat with the family and friends of a young man who was walking on a street and hit by a drunk driver. I know the general circumstances were different, but it triggered something for me and made the week of pastoral care and memorial preparations all the more resonant.
I wish I didn’t remember the horror of finding my beloved partner Tricia almost dead on the sofa when marriage equality is declared legal in yet another state. We were just starting our life together in 1998, and same sex marriage at the time was a pipe dream. I am always so happy when justice reigns and love wins, but I also relive the loss.
I wish I didn’t remember that my mother died on November 21, 2007, when the reminder of my sister’s birthday pops up. While we justified it as fitting, it still is a hard day, and I pray each year that my sister dwells on the joy of her life and the celebration she richly deserves rather than marking it as simply a day of loss.
On the Sunday before Memorial Day in 2013, I was privileged to step into Sam Trumbore’s pulpit at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany. As we led up to a candle lighting ritual, I talked about our need for memorials:
In memorial, the act of remembering is a physical act, that connects us with the past, that connects us with life, that alters time so that past and present can meet, even for a short while. And we find strength in the remembering. Director Anne Bogart says “As a result of a partnership with memory and the consequent journeys through the past, I feel nourished, encouraged, and energized. I feel more profoundly connected to and inspired by those who came before.”
Connected and inspired.
While it would be easier some days to have the pain of some of my memories much more faded than the crisp images that come to mind, when they do come, they connect me to life – my own, those who have died, and those still living. The pain of these memories informs who I am, how I enter the world, and how I interact with others. And yes, the pain of these memories inspires me to keep living, keep loving, keep remembering.