I’m a keepsake person. I always have been. I keep my letters; I keep my old schoolbooks (until my wife throws them away); I keep souveniers, packed away in boxes in the closet. There are a lot of reasons for this. My memory isn’t so great sometimes – I’ll forget things or get confused, and I don’t want that. Also, depending on the item, a keepsake can be a treasure to see again or reread, something to bring me joy as I smile to recall a happy moment.
Of course, as Dave Landrith notes, the meaning of keepsakes can change with time. I keep things, yes, but sometimes there is drift. Sometimes years down the road, some event or place or person becomes less important, and I can let it go. For me, however, the pace of drift is glacial. Several months ago, I finally got rid of some old class notes and miscellaneous papers from my undergraduate education, many of which dated to over a decade in the past.
One of my great, overriding, irrational fears is that information will get lost, memories will be lost. And
I ache to think of lost information. The lost plays and stories and novels; the lost manuscripts, turned to ash as precious libraries burn; the stories that were never written down to begin with, that never made the leap from muse to manuscript. The half-written songs that Beethoven or John Lennon had in mind, moments before death. Even the stories that never really lived to start with, but just existed in half-born form in dreams, forgotten at the moment of waking. I cry for it all: The lost dreams and lost dramas; the lost turns of phrase and clever comebacks; the lost wit and wisdom and wonder; all of it somehow misplaced during the lifetime of the race.
It’s hard to convey the primordial pain that I feel for these lost memories, even in the abstract. And in the particular, my reaction is a thousand times more intense. I hang on to the markers of my memories desperately, feverishly. I take hundreds of pictures. I archive my class notes. I keep drafts of papers that I wrote and published years ago. And on e-mails, watch out. I spent days at my former employer before I left, trying to save and categorize and archive thousands of old e-mails. I expect that I’ll do the same if and when I leave my current employ. (Computers add a few interesting wrinkles to the life of an obsessive, sentimental pack rat like me. They add security concerns – I must make sure to wipe old e-mails from old computers. They also add the double-edged sword of a vast, overwhelming archival ability. I love this capacity. Though yes, as an attorney, I’m well aware of the sometime scary, near-eternal life of computer files.)
Why do I do this? Why do I hang on? Why do the records and written words mean so much to me?
The movie Blade Runner contains an amazing line that conveys wonderfully the sentiment I feel of reverence for recorded memory. Just before one main character perishes, as the film ends, he says: “I’ve seen things that you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I’ve watched C-beams glitter in the dark, near the Tannhouser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain.” That line makes me shiver; it touches a chord deep inside me.
Human memory is a frail thing, and so, so temporary. When memory is lost, it is gone forever, like tears in the rain. (If you prefer your metaphors to come from Kansas, “dust in the wind” works pretty well too). And so I keep things, and I hold on to the records of my memories. The more important that a memory is to me, the tighter I cling to it. “You can have my memories,” I want to say, “when you pry them from my cold fingers.”
One of the things that I like best about believing in the church is the promise that all of our memories will be remembered one day, and all once mysterious will be known. (Like some others, I think that if I ever left the church, this would be a great source of loss to me). To be sure, this concept of restoration is often a source of fear and trepidation for me. There are some things, some choices, some moments, that I would like to wash out. But then I step back, and bask in the idea of restored beauty. In the eternities, there is no lost information. It is all kept, all saved, all preserved. Someday we will sing the lost songs, hear the lost tales, read the lost books, speak the lost languages. And my own memories will be restored perfectly, nothing forgotten or misplaced, and I will revel in the wonder of relived beauty.
If it will all be restored, then why do I hang on so tightly now? I can’t say. Perhaps it’s a sign of my own lack of faith, a statement that I don’t trust God to make good on the promise of restoration. Maybe my feeling comes from the link between act and record – I see the memory itself in the record, and resist letting go because it seems like a betrayal of some particular moment in the past. Or perhaps I just have a hard time letting go of things.
Whatever the cause, there is something deep inside me that rises up and cries out in protest when I think of memories lost and fading, like tears in the rain. They are all so precious to me, and most of all the ones that mark changes and milestones in my own journey through life. I wish I could write them all down, keep them all, preserve them perfectly.
Perhaps some day, I’ll be able to.