It’s funny how our memories work. We remember and forget as inherently as we perceive our own fatigue and hunger. This ‘system’ – or lack thereof – for capturing moments has frightened me for years.
Take visits to the cemetery. Most of my childhood trips to cemeteries have been lost or fused together, but I think the heavier ones were intentionally jettisoned. Only one visit stands out to me, probably because of how intensely – and how little – I felt.
It must have been Father’s Day.
I remember feeling mesmerized by a light-on-marble composition of two thinly-distorted bodies cast by the morning sun, partially obstructed by roses placed by me and my brother, Josh.
I was at the age where you’ve realized you’ll never be able to successfully chase and catch your shadow, but you still live for comparing their heights and elongating yours as much as you can. On most days, I would’ve leaped to gain height on Josh.
Not today. A towering third shadow crept close, and I felt my dad’s hand fall upon my shoulder. We just stood like that, staring at engraved letters on a headstone. I remember thinking that it must have meant something to someone at some time, and maybe still did for my dad.
But for this would-be great-grandfather of whom I knew nothing beyond a name, I didn’t feel. At the very least, I felt guilty for my detachment and indifference. Was I supposed to feel something greater? I thought I probably should.
A few days later, I lay in bed, conquered by a ruminating mind – that’s a mature way of saying that I was deciding which Webkinz to buy with my weekly allowance. But a few minutes later, a flood poured down my cheeks and my small legs were racing into my parents’ bedroom.
My dad tried to console me as I burrowed my face into his pillow screaming “I don’t want to die!” in unintelligible repetition. And I would repeat that sentiment in the many midnight sprints to his room that followed.
A childish epiphany – that was all it was, if you can even call it that. But later, when I thought back to the grave, I understood that it marked a personality, a voice, and a smile.
Now, an unfeeling skeleton rests below in a wooden crate. In dirt. Marked by what – some rock?
I hadn’t thought about ‘legacy’ or being remembered.’ And even still, I don’t think I’d mind if, someday, passer-bys reduced me to a box of bones beneath a name.
I had only thought about the finite nature of time.
That’s why I’m writing this piece. We shelter ourselves from anything beyond the scope of our calendar’s pages without even realizing, and it’s unsettling.
In my first few months of college, I’ve already been confronted by the seemingly compulsory nature of daily planning. Supposedly, if I’m going to have an amazing, life-changing conversation with a friend, it must be written somewhere in my Google calendar. And so, during my first week, I began organizing my life in varicolored time segments on a schedule, acquiescing to the advice of upperclassmen.
But then I reminded myself of the cemetery.
I deleted the app, deciding to keep my meetups calendar-free. Realizing what matters to my life isn’t going to happen over the next five, 10, or 50 years by abiding to a color-coded agenda. Instead, it will come through embracing meaning in today.
I need to live for the present, which means taking time to refocus myself. I want to inspire, be inspired, and drive change. This lofty goal means removing myself from the grasp of the clock hands. I must step away from my G-Cal and life’s daily stressors. At age 18, I want to make moments I can treasure, the kind that I’ll look back at smiling and say, “Wow, I did that.”
I’m no longer frightened by memories. Because, by doing my part to create a kinder world, I know:
I am going to capture as many memories as I can.