Thursday, May 28, 2009

But, I wonder at the convenience of memory and how, perhaps, our mind aims to protect us...

It's a funny thing. Memory. And how it works. A few weeks ago, when my mom was visiting, we retrieved her grandmother's antique desk out of the depths of our garage. I had been keeping it for her. We used it in our last place, a tiny little guest house in west L.A. But, here, in the spot we've called home for 9 years it had sat undisturbed in the garage. Or, so I remembered. Once it was out in the sunlight and had been dusted off, in preparation for loading into her car, E discovered a cache of letters and cards in the drop leaf section of the writing desk. The loot was mine. It also contained an old address book, a carryover from my single days...the cover a pink satin laced up bodice, hinting of oft dreamed debauchery.

Many of the cards were from my 40th birthday party in 2001. Somehow I had forgotten that my fortieth birthday had fallen 8 days after September 11th. I looked at the dates written on the cards and it was as if I was seeing it for the first time. Could it be? My 40th birthday just after nine-eleven? And yet, I had not remembered. Nor had I remembered that the desk had even been in this house -moved into the garage so that we could prepare the nursery in anticipation of BOY's arrival.

I do remember now a slight awkwardness, a wondering, if people would be up to celebrating my birthday so soon after what seemed like the world was on its way to the end... And, we decided that YES, it was a time to celebrate. Because we were alive. That having a party didn't negate all the people who had lost their lives. That it was OK to have some drinks, eat delicious food, and laugh with special friends. Because we could.

I don't know why my memory chose to selectively forget that not small detail. But, it did. There was another thing that happened that evening that should have stayed with me, yet only now comes to the surface as I am writing this. A close friend from my childhood in Beirut, who lives in Santa Monica, had driven out for my birthday. Parking on our street, he was questioned getting out of his car as to his Lovely man that he is, he laughed it off in the telling. Yet, it was unnerving and uncomfortable that my friend was questioned as to where he was going by a "well intentioned" older neighbor, because my friend's skin is the color of dark caramel. Yes, life had changed.

The rest of the evening I remember quite well. But, I wonder at the convenience of memory and how, perhaps, our mind aims to protect us... What is as important, disturbing...catastrophic and deeply personal, as September 11th was for all of us, can be present forever or not. Fully at one's fingertips or rolled up in a tight ball, to unravel unexpectedly by chance...slapping us with the impact. Memories uncovered in the seemingly simple task of moving a piece of furniture from one destination to another...


Painting titled "Traces of a Forgotten Life" by David Luksha.

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  1. My husand's (and, coincidentally, 3 of our friends/neighbors) birthdays are on September 13. We vacillated, but had a low-key gathering.

    Peoples' ignorance is stunning sometimes.

  2. your last line just pierced my soul

  3. Yes, memory is so fascinating. Sometimes, the most simple thing will bring forth a memory that stuns me, because I can't believe it was ever forgotten.

  4. My friends birthday was the next day. I remember thinking we should do something to recognize her birthday and yet we were all still so stunned and unsure of what it all meant for us as military families it seemed inappropriate to do anything.

  5. It is amazing - I have been constantly ambushed by memories in this year of changing Mom's living situation. And I don't know what it is about this morning, but this is the second post i've read today with a 9/11 memory.

  6. my son was born soon after 9/11 and I remember feeling like we were doing something good for the world (as corny as that sounds) after the trauma we had all been through.
    Memory is a mysterious thing.

  7. I often wonder if we have selective memory as a means of protecting our pysches from that which is uncomfortable or that no longer serves us?

  8. It's wonderful and heartbreaking how found (and re-found) objects trigger the memory domino effect.

    And it's good to remember sometimes. Lessons learned and friends recalled and even tragedies relived through a different lens.

    This was beautifully written.

  9. memories...good AND bad, something I hold so dear, yet, I know I'm losing it, and I've lost some...through time through age... can I grow old and not forget....

  10. Some good friends of ours were busy having their first baby at the moment the second tower fell. The hope of that birth always mitigated the horror for me somewhat. This past Friday I lost a college friend to cancer at approximately the same moment my cousin gave birth to her first child. We must always celebrate life.


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