Memories: Soundtrack for a Photo Album
My great-grandmother is the last surviving child of two Polish immigrants who came to America through Ellis Island. Her father was an orphan with no record of who he was or even his date of birth, and her mother’s family was exterminated in Chelmno death camp during World War II. My great-grandmother will be eighty-eight years old this year, and in a family where our beloved matriarch is forgetting who’s alive, who’s dead, and who’s who, remembering is precious.
I believe in remembering, for myself and for others. Being observant to the point of a near-photographic memory, though it doesn’t often solve the mystery of where the car keys went, is a never-ending source of fascination and entertainment for me as I watch people and places change before my very eyes. I can even recall things that only happened in my mind. When I was about two years old, I dreamed that my parents warned me against going to bed while wearing slippers; they said it would make my head fall off. I never knew it was a dream, and while I suspected that it was an odd thing to say to a two-year-old, in all seriousness or in sarcasm, it wasn’t until I was eleven that I brought this up in casual conversation and discovered it never happened.
Even the most wonderful memories can be painful. Lately I’ve run into some old friends of mine, those cherished first few friends I made when I left Chicago – the only home I remembered – to be in Wisconsin. Some of them I haven’t talked to in five years. This isn’t because of any great fallings-out, but merely the slow shifting of people and places in life that makes the contrast between where we start and where we end so stark. One friend, whom I was desperately anxious to meet up with again in high school, refuses to descend from his clique so far as to make eye contact with me. He has gone from lovable nerd to rock star, and needless to say there’s no turning back. Another friend turned to, as an old classmate of ours said evasively, “sex, drugs, and rock and roll…and a lot more” since we last spoke. The other, the one I knew best and in whose family I was an honorary member, is too terrified of losing his footing on the social ladder as an aspiring football star to talk with me. Whenever I think of them, I think of close friends whom I wouldn’t trade for the world. When I see them, I see something entirely different, and I can’t stand it.
Still, I believe in remembering. I believe in remembering our mistakes, our triumphs, our heroes, and our worst enemies, as individuals and as nations. I believe in remembering our little daily victories and our hard-won fights that seemed they would never end. I believe in remembering the people who gave us hope that the world would be a beautiful place one day, and I believe in remembering things like the Holocaust that took my great-grandmother’s family, all the most terrible scars on the face of humanity, that they might never happen again.
People tell me that I’m too nostalgic, that I tell too many stories. I laugh and say I know it’s true, but somewhere inside I believe that everything is worth remembering, because even the most unremarkable things will one day change the world.
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