Some months ago, I wrote a few brief remarks to share for the memorial service marking one year since my Mom’s passing, and while preparing to deliver the remarks, I recorded myself reciting them in order to review them before the service. The first attempts with just my voice were helpful in the editing process, but it felt like something was lacking in the delivery, so I decided to try adding a musical component to help set the mood. I eventually chose a selection from the movie, “Her,” starring Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams called, “Song on the Beach.” It’s a lovely piano solo from the film score composed by Arcade Fire and Owen Pallet. I posted a link above to the mp3 version of my reading and posted the text below so you could follow along if you wish.
The memories of our lives have a central role in forming who we eventually become, and even though we all realize that memorable experiences aren’t always going to be happy ones, we still naturally tend to suppress those memories which are unpleasant, in favor of those which remind us of happy times. Unfortunately, at certain times, unpleasant memories of trauma or loss can overwhelm us and prevent us from considering the broad scope of our memories, which generally include a more balanced or nuanced collection. We are only human, and must allow ourselves these episodes of being or feeling overwhelmed, recognizing that these feelings will eventually subside with time, although no specific time frame applies to any one of us. Each of us must find our way back in our own time.
As cognitive creatures, we are able to form memories from our subjective experiences, and to utilize those memories for learning and teaching, for calculation and contemplation, for innovation and intuition, and to improve our abilities and increase our level of awareness. Our memories can enslave us or empower us, depending on our interpersonal skills, the degree of support and caring we experience throughout our lives, and often on how well we are able to develop our abilities throughout our lives. Our emphasis can sap the life out of us, or enable us to grow and live abundantly, although frequently it ends up being somewhere in between.
Now that I have introduced the category of “Life,” the next few posts will introduce the role of “Evolution,” in the theory I presented recently, and I hope my readers will be patient while I struggle to find my way to the writing desk. Memory is not just something only humans possess, and it can present both opportunities and obstacles depending on how it is employed in our daily lives, but it clearly can challenge us with difficulties to endure, just as easily as it enables us to enhance our lives. It’s really up to us.
Memory is Feeling
When we go out walking in the brisk, autumn air now, inhaling deeply, listening to the rustling of the leaves that are left, taking in the beauty in every color surrounding us, it stirs our memories of autumns from years ago. The sweetness in the air, the crystal clarity between us and the world, all of the experiences of this time of year, have meaning as a consequence of our humanity. It evokes mystery; it evokes contemplation, and in the most ordinary of ways. We can close our eyes, listen to the sounds, feel the warmth of the sun against our skin, the rising and falling of our chests as we breathe, the air flowing in and out of our lungs, the pulse throbbing in our wrists.
Conventional wisdom, first written by Rene Descartes ( in “Principles of Philosophy,”) said “I think, therefore I am,” but for me, it is more correct to say, “I feel, therefore I am,” in spite of having to think about how we feel. For me, feeling has always been the one indisputable proof of my existence. It FEELS like something to be an individual human person. And our miraculous capacity for memory, which we now know is not like a transcript, or a videotape, or a digital rendering of our experiences, but actually, every time we remember, it is a reconstruction—a recreation in our minds of the way it felt to be in those moments. Our experience of those moments feels like life-I feel, therefore I am alive.
We don’t often stop during the day to consider at length what we are feeling. Our busy lives often prevent us from spending too much time in quiet contemplation of such things, but when we allow ourselves to become quiet, when we are able to pause even for a few minutes of silence, that is when our capacity for memory can move us most deeply.
It’s often during the times when we are at our quietest, when we think of those we love who are no longer with us. They are there still, lingering in memory. It is perhaps, as a memory, that the full measure of the delight we knew with them is clearer than when they were among us. We look back on those experiences now, as a lovely memory, to see that they contain particular elements which we want to hold on to and which mean the most to us. The feeling of connection to those we love does not perish with the body. We continue to feel those connections as strongly as ever.
We are gathered today as a family to honor our memories of our mother, whom we adored, and to whom we are still very much connected. Perhaps this is the greatest lesson of loss. Even though they are no longer with us physically, the soul continues, and the memory of the feeling will not perish.
—more to come—
8 thoughts on “Memory is Feeling”
What a generous gift you have given to all of us while honoring your Mom at the same time. Thank you so much for sharing some of the feelings you have associated with your Mother. I am sincerely sorry for your loss, John, and knowing only a sliver about you is enough to understand the kind of woman she must have been. You favor her greatly in your countenance and I am guessing in your spirit as well. I, too, lost my Mother. She passed away in 2011 after a lifetime of illness; hence, we viewed her passing as a release from the bondage of a broken body.
Memories, good or bad, are always remembered with a multitude of emotions attached to them. Never is there an isolated feeling attached to a memory, for we are far too complex to allow such dullness. Even our happiest memories of those who have passed beyond our reach are bittersweet due to the separation. Still, it is vital we take the time to spend with loved ones even if we can only achieve that through a walk down memory lane. Many, whom I have loved and who were an important figure in my life continue to dwell within me as you so aptly observed in your own life. They are safe in our memories.
Descartes did miss a critical element, which you found as every thought we have has an emotion attached to it. For better or worse, we are passionate beings. Even if I dare to ponder the mathematical quagmire that is Pi my mind immediately attaches several emotions to the operation, mostly dread and sullenness as I loathe math. As we have discussed before, logic can take you only to the edge of reason and then you must succumb to the process of feeling your way to the next level of consciousness.
Your tribute to your Mom would have pleased her greatly, I think as it was a complete picture of the wonderful son she gave the world. I also appreciated that you attached the audio file because hearing the voice of the author reading his words puts the emphasis, the heart, and the passion into the piece just as he or she intended. I first read the entry then listened to your voice. I felt each word you uttered as if I were there in the audience. I feel as if I knew your mom in some small way due to your tribute. I feel she would have been pleased and I am very grateful that you chose to share an intimate moment of your life. I hope my words convey the proper amount of respect and appreciation for your gift. Blessings upon you, my friend.
You are so generous in your personal response to my posting, and it was received with gratitude and recognized as having been offered in a respectful sense.
Memory can be a double-edged sword when it comes at a time of loss, and it is our connection to each of those we love who remain with us that can mitigate the power of the sword and turn it into an instrument of healing. Just as you say, there can be powerful emotions and feelings attached to memories, as they are forged in our minds in cooperation with a passionate heart, and with the spirit of our humanity. Reducing them to anything less diminishes that passionate spirit and falls short of the truth.
I’m glad you were able to enjoy the voice recording, and I hoped it would give an additional perspective for those who wished to more fully appreciate the sentiment.
Thank you so much for your kind and gentle response.
Warmest regards….John H.
A touching tribute to the memory of your mother and your journey through healing at the loss of her. I wish you warm comfort..
Your thoughtful comment is most welcome. I clearly could use a little warm comfort at such times and you are kind to offer such a wish.
My mother was a warm and comforting presence in my life for all of my years as her son, and in one of the most poignant moments in her last days, she held my face in her hands and told me that she had loved me her whole life. I doubt there could be a more loving and comforting moment of warmth between a mother and her child. This memory and all of the memories I carry with me into my own last days will reflect the feeling of that moment, and be carried forward by my children and grandchildren and both the memory and the feeling shall not perish.
Warm regards….John H.
‘Memory is feeling’ – I had no idea what the post would be about when I started reading it. The title intrigued me and resonated with something I had written a few weeks ago. A few seconds later, as I was engrossed in this beautiful tribute to the memories of your mother, your thoughts appeared to be perfectly true.
I second you on the belief that I feel, and therefore I am. On thinking about it a bit deeper, whatever we have done in our lives, whatever we become, all of it is related to how we feel about it or something related to it. The people we meet in our lives, the circumstances we find ourselves in, the images we see, the food we eat, the sounds we hear – absolutely everything has an impact on our decisions. And that impact comes from the memories of those experiences stored deep inside our brains.
I was especially attracted to your words ‘our memories can empower us or enslave us’. Even though you very well listed some of the factors on which it depends, but still, I am a bit confused probably due to my lack of experience. For example, a sad memory of a heart break or a physical injury can make us depressed or fuel our will to be happier and successful. So is there a way by which one can control the effect of a particular memory on our lives?
It was a beautiful post and I sincerely thank you for sharing this 🙂
I thank you very much for your thoughtful response to my posting. You honor me with your kindness and I appreciate the opportunity to respond to such a thought-provoking question. I hope I am able to answer you in a way that is commensurate with the caliber of your response.
My mother was an extraordinary soul in this world. I have always known it, ever since I first awakened to consciousness as a child, but I feel as though I have only just recently acquired a sufficient degree of life experience and hard-won wisdom to express it in the way I did in this post. In so many ways, my mother deserves much more than anything I might offer as a description of our relationship, but I have come to understand that the nature and quality of our relationship, while worthy of any effort I could make to honor it, can only be fully understood in terms that are highly subjective. Everyone has a mother of some sort, and I was fortunate to be the son of one such extraordinary woman.
Your observation that “whatever we become is related to how we feel about it,” is precisely the conclusion I was suggesting. We become who we are, in large part, as a result of our ability to remember. The good, the bad, and the in between, all make up the microscopic increments of our memories, and at every moment of our lives, some memory from the hundreds of thousands we retain and review at those moments, touches us once again, and reminds us of how it felt to live in that moment. We build our lives upon the foundations of our memories, especially those we consider as pivotal while we live, and the memory of the feelings we experienced during those moments, reach up and touch us within.
Your question is: “Is there a way by which one can control the effect of a particular memory on our lives? The answer is: “It depends.”
It depends on a number of different factors, but perhaps more than any other single factor, it depends on our ability to step back away from the particular memory, and place it in perspective against all the other memories. The events that precipitate particular memories can haunt us, or hurt us. There are particular memories which can enrich us and enliven us. There are particular memories which can devastate us and devalue us. And there are particular memories which can satisfy us and save us, but we do not always get to choose our particular memories. As I have said before, sometimes we earn them, and sometimes they arrive unexpectedly or unwelcome. Our response to the events of our lives is the only factor over which we have some degree of control. We can consider our choices; we can contemplate our alternatives; we can calculate our risks; and we can choose, in some cases, what we think is best for ourselves or for those who depend on us. But the memories we carry sometimes have powerful effects which we cannot control completely, and acknowledging that we don’t have complete control on these effects is an important part of learning to live with particular memories. The prayer of St. Francis often comes to mind in this context:
“God grant me the serenity to accept those things I cannot change, the courage to change those things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Your gracious and thoughtful response gives me great satisfaction, knowing that it was a result of your visit to my blog, and it has created a lovely memory of pondering my reply here today.
Warm regards….John H.
I have to admit there couldn’t be a better reply to my somewhat vague question. There is no doubt in the greatness of your mother which is so evidently reflected from your words and thoughts. I am truly grateful to you for such a wonderful response and clearing out mist. You answered so many questions here that I have always had and gave me a lasting smile.
Also, the prayer of St. Francis is my father’s favorite too and he always brings it into discussions.
Once again, I thank you from the core of my heart for taking the time out and gifting a wonderful memory 🙂
It is also a gift for me when my writing efforts are acknowledged by those who visit here, and it is particularly satisfying to be given the opportunity to respond to comments which reflect a close and considered reading of my blog posts.
Hopefully, you will find other entries here that are of interest to you and which may provide additional food for thought.
Kind regards…..John H.