Rendered Fat Content


Thomas Wood:
Remembrance (valentine) (c. 1850)
(I could find no biographical information on this artist.)

"They hold us upright …"

Of all the roles I have played and continue playing in this life, the role of Rememberer might qualify as the sleeper. I focus most of my energy into my role of primary experiencer, for that seems to be the most purpose-laden role available. I make my history by engaging in the innumerable activities that will eventually comprise my history. I never schedule time to set aside engaging to do some serious remembering, even though much of my activity involves writing, which relies upon recollections. I never catch myself stuffing away reflections. They seem to accumulate more or less automatically, never by me more tightly focusing my attention. Indeed, squinching my mind in order to capture memories better seems paradoxical. One does not really capture anything for later consumption. Some stuff just seems to stick.

I remember visiting St. Peter's in Rome only to find the place overrun with people carrying video cameras attempting to capture their visit to St. Peter's.
This seemed the most unholy occupation. I imagined those folks returning from their vacation with no primal memories of their trip except what their video camera managed to capture. That and the prominent recollections of operating a video camera in a variety of novel places. I can hear the customs officer asking the prospective visitor, "And what is the purpose of your visit?" And that prospective visitor responding, "To operate my video camera in a variety of novel places." And the customs officer sternly refusing them entry on the grounds that they would have been an unseemly presence, likely to defile the country's holiest places by attempting to capture them on video. Had they gained entry, that visitor might have only gotten video and no other primary sensory experiences from visiting that country, not even a supper.

Rememberers cannot rely on technology to meaningfully assist them in their mission. Nor can they realistically focus the bulk of their attention on remembering when for the same reason that nobody can really capture St. Peter's on video. One must maintain multiple awarenesses, focusing upon primary experience while also squirreling away impressions for later reflection. It's certainly possible to have primary experiences without retaining impressions. This requires only a sincere lack of attention or too much imbibing to accomplish. Most of us manage to maintain at least two channels, the primary experience channel, where we focus most of our attention, and the Rememberer's one, where we quietly squirrel away for later reflection.

I suspect that it helps if one slows down occasionally to actually reflect. One should probably not expect fine-grained recollections to simply jump up at their beck and call without having invested in active reflection over time. My writing exercises those recollection muscles that seem to stir my pot of recollections. While novels and movies feature discrete scenes, lives are never lived like that. Our stories never seem all that discrete and often seem fragmented. We most often embellish not to aggrandize but to clarify. Were we to remain faithful to any actual experience, the story would probably come out as gibberish. We must trim and improve, or else we couldn't possibly remain faithful, a contradiction and one well-worth recalling.

I caught myself in a shower of remembrances yesterday when visiting my little sister's grave. It's located in an area I only rarely visit, so I have to rely upon The Muse to navigate us there. I also can't quite remember precisely where her grave site's located within that graveyard, even though that's relatively modest. I always feel overwhelmed with recollections when I visit. They swell up like emotions but with more precise distinctions. Anyone can experience a flood of sadness without really understanding why because feelings can just happen without even a hint of volition. Anyone can feel victim to them, but remembrances come with greater purpose, deeper depth. The lumpy throat explains its presence. The moistened eye understands precisely why it emerges. I realized, in that moment, that I was fulfilling perhaps my most sacred responsibility, for I was called to remember my little sister's existence. Without a Rememberer handy, she could not, in that moment, be present without somebody to accept that onus, both the Rememberer and their object might just as well have never existed.

My family carries indirect memories stretching back to the fifth century AD. That's one hell of a history and utterly dependent upon someone in each generation assuming the responsibility of becoming the Rememberer. It's a tremendous responsibility. It calls upon one to occasionally set aside their primary experience, not to take up some video machine but to repeat the stories passed down to them, to quite literally remember when. This act might qualify as the most primary of primary experiences, the remembering when. We don't just stand on our forebears' shoulders; we stand upon our contemporaries' shoulders, too, even our little sister's. They hold us upright in an authentic sense, a sense without existence without the active intervention of the Rememberers. Don't ever forget this!

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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