When Memories Are All That Remain

The other day I was thinking about memories, why they occur, their frequency and triggers. I was walking along the river under my own contemplative spell when I was suddenly hit with a memory of a lost love. The trigger was the back of the woman’s head in front of me. She had the same silver hair, the same hairstyle, haircut, and the same untamable cowlick that Kathleen had. For the briefest part of a second I created this fantasy story in my head as I moved to get a look at the woman’s face to see if by some trick of fate it might really be her.

The body was so bruised and swollen when they found it. The police woman only identified it’s twisted form by her passport photo. Perhaps they had made a mistake. Maybe those were not her ashes in the wooden urn her daughter brought back from México but those of some other body who had drowned in the river that day. Perhaps destiny had carried her down the river and she ended up here in Cuenca… Hope defies logic even fifteen years after her death. As I observed the woman’s face, my momentary hope turned to despair. I felt as if I had lost her all over again.

The memory, for only a moment, brought her back to life in my consciousness. She was real, alive from my memory of her. We forget but memories still exists in the consciousness like on a computer’s hard drive. If you dig deep enough, they are there. I can not remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, but I remember every detail down to her cowlick. The suddenness of this experience transcends time, but because I remember her in my consciousness, in this moment she still lives.

I recently watched an animated film, The Book of Life. Although it is primarily a coming of age film about a young man stuck between following in his family’s footsteps (bullfighting) or his own heart (the guitar and music), it also examines the divide between life, death and memory. Manolo, the young man, is bitten by a snake and dies. He travels to the Land of the Remembered and reunites with his mother and other family members who have also died, but are still remembered. They are happy to be together again. The new home is colorful, full of music and life because they are loved and remembered by those still living.

In contrast to the Land of the Remembered is the Land of the Forgotten. Here the terrain is barren, everything is gray, and dark. There is no music or celebration because the souls here have been forgotten. They no longer have loved ones who remember them. They are no longer a part of the consciousness of a living person.

There is some element of truth in all myths and beliefs. The lands of the Remembered and Forgotten are easily metaphors for Heaven and Hell. Celebrations like the Day of the Dead help us to keep the memory of loved ones alive in our consciousness allowing them to remain in the beautiful Land of the Remembered.

I wrote a poem which was actually “transmitted” to me from Kathleen following her death. The last line of the poem is:

When memories are all that remain, Remember to remember me.

It might be true that the sprit only dies when we are no longer remembered and enters the realm of those forgotten. Kathleen was as real to me the other morning as she was fifteen years ago. My mother was standing in the kitchen as clear as day when I bit into a piece of bread covered with butter and jam and was instantly transported into my four year old self sitting at the table watching her cook.

Memories are real, just another reality separates them from this time and place. Conscious awareness keeps the people we love and lost alive in our memory of them. We just can not hold them the way we once did.