Fading Into Memory

Photo by Leonard John Matthews, via Flickr

Bedtime on a Tuesday evening is a zoo. Christian is in the basement teaching piano. Julianna is listening to a Christmas sing-along CD (yes, still). Nicholas is endeavoring to stay in the tub until he develops hypothermia. In the other bathroom, Alex sounds like he’s making a movie in the shower, complete with sound effects, music and all dialogue.

And in the front bedroom, Michael sees me sitting on the floor, waiting with a footed sleeper for him. Smiling so big his nose crinkles, he spreads his arms wide: game on. I mirror his position, and with a belly laugh that could power Monstropolis for a year, he runs six steps and launches thirty pounds of heavenly soft skin and baby fat into my arms.

There are moments in life when a mother’s whole world freeze-frames upon a point in time. The clarity makes them seem longer than they are. The feel of the air takes on a character. Colors sharpen on the intersection of sensation and emotion. There’s that heady, half-dizzy buzz in the brain that I associate with joy and with the Holy Spirit, and the achy, fluid feeling in my chest. These are the moments that inspired the cliché about hearts melting.

They’re fleeting moments, quickly buried beneath an avalanche of distraction. When they burst upon me I hold my breath and try to shut down my brain to maximize the imprint. Because it’s not enough for me to be able to tell you about it afterward. I want to be able to close my eyes and feel it all again.

Only it doesn’t work that way, does it? You have to shut down the brain and experience the moments because when they’re gone, they’re just gone. They leave an impression, but it’s not the same. You can’t recapture the visceral, full-body-and-soul experience. Only the memory. Sometimes I question taking pictures because I end up remembering the photo instead of the moment.

Perhaps it’s because so much of the moment depends upon context. We edit our memories depending on what we want to evoke, be that good or bad. Women routinely block out just how wretched the last few weeks of pregnancy are–you think you remember, you talk about it, but when you’re there again the enormity of it overwhelms you anew. Then, as kids grow up and move on, people choose to dwell on the sweet moments, and yet what gives those sweet moments life and body is the chaos, and sometimes the frustration, that surround them. No matter how wide you fling the corners of your mind, you are never going to be able to catch all the nuances and piece them back together: your mood, the myriad details, one stacked upon another, that create one particular day, unique from all others.

I do the best I can, but I mourn the moments even as I clutch at them, because I can already feel them fading into memory. Babyhood, for instance. I know I’m at my limit, and there’s joy and freedom in the dawn of a new era. And yet oh, how I long to hold and nurse a baby again. When I saw a baby being baptized at Mass this weekend, I actually gasped, the shot of longing was so painful, the longing to live it again. Memory lacks that visceral experience.

As the moments come, I try to slow down and hold them as long as possible. And I hold onto the hope that Heaven will allow me to exist in them once again.