Tears in the Rain

February 22, 2006 | 17 comments
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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.

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17 Responses to Tears in the Rain

  1. Craig S. on February 22, 2006 at 8:31 am

    Beautiful thoughts Kaimi

  2. Edward A. Erdtsieck on February 22, 2006 at 10:02 am

    The situation in your posting is one I recognize and can empathize with and relish. When I am surrounded in my office at home with all that you have mentioned. I feel engaged and connected to the world around me. It feeds my minds eye. I travel and explore the world of thoughts and ideas. I could not imagine to be unconnected to a different way of seeing the invisible.

    I am a substitute teacher, at first in regular classes, then I started in the special education classes and I was drawn to these children and young adults. Today get calls from teachers from over half the county that keep me busy. This group of special education kids have the opposite situation. Most are mired in their disability and lack the ability that you and I have see our invisible world. They have their own invisible world and many are repulsed by their disability.

    I retired as an insurance broker and had a friend, who worked as an insurance agent for a well known company. His office was cluttered with numerous stacks of policy holders files. One day I asked him wasn’t it about time to do something about that. He expressed the idea, that a policy holder’s needs were routine and repetitive and that no matter what, the company has always been there for them. He is now retired. So for him it worked out.

    I am ambivalent about the idea that God will fix anything in the end. It seems somewhat of trueism, but then? Everything in my office is a residue of what I have done. The recognition and awards given by members and groups in the community are a reflection of their regard for my contributions. I am often humbled, when seeming strangers walk up to me call me by name. They know me, but I don’t know them as well, because they were among the audience. What I have stored in my office becomes dust, when I am no longer around, but what I stood for will never be lost.

    I believe that mortality is a state of becoming. The question is what? I am not sure I have an answer. I read, that this saturday, the world population will reach 61/2 billion living and breathing souls. So there may be as many answers as there are people.

    It’s not really that bad, when my things crumble into dust. What is knowledge, when there are so many interpretations? The question is how has it affected me as a living, God created soul? Ever since Adam and Eve, past knowledge and experience has been kneaded, like bread dough and eaten as bread. Even God, while in the process of creation declared that it was good.

  3. annegb on February 22, 2006 at 10:44 am

    When I was young, I didn’t trouble to save things. But after David and Davey died, I saved everything. I felt I was saving a piece of them.

    I saved every paper my children did, little notes that say, “I love you, Mom” and papier mache models of earth. Boxes and boxes of stuff. I saved a whole box of pieces of radios and machines James had taken apart.

    I finally, after ten years, threw out the pieces of radios and wires, etc. I still have a big box of old toys and stuff. I bought my girls hope chests and gave my stepson his dad’s old army chest and filled them with the stuff, the papers and old history projects. The kids are appalled and don’t want all that stuff. They laugh at me.

    The thing is, I seldom look at the stuff I’ve saved. And I’ve never forgotten my loved ones. I remember their voices and the look in their eyes. I remember. I am not saving them in those boxes, I’m saving quite a bit of stuff that no one will want after I die.

    I’ve helped several families clean up homes and rooms in those homes after the deaths of their mothers. Those lovely mementos mean nothing to anyone but the person who keeps them, as a rule. I am going to give a lot of things away before I die and hopefully make it easier on my loved ones. Basically, in each case, most of their things were trashed or donated.

    For instance, Kaimi, do you think your children will read all those e-mails? I have a big box full of papers and profound stuff I’ve printed off from here and other places, but I’m pretty sure my kids will look at that stuff and think their mom went crazy long before it became obviious.

    That being said, I’m re-doing my house and putting some really cherry file cabinets and I’m going to sort that good stuff out into files. I’ll enjoy them before I lose it.

  4. XON on February 22, 2006 at 11:14 am

    If we really believe in the idea that we progress, then what we are is composed of what we have been. Based on my observations of people throughout my life, those who value markers of where they have been before seem to be people who have a ‘balanced’ faith of their place in the larger creation of God. Not that they’re better, or smarter, or even more interesting; perhaps ‘centered’ is the better word.

    I think that also explains what annegb mentioned: “The thing is, I seldom look at the stuff I’ve saved.” Precisely having that properly centered faith in what we can become makes the mementos of our past ‘merely’ (I don’t like all the connotations of that word in this context, but can’t think of a better one right now . . .) the road we have already been down.

    And, for the record, Blade Runner is my alltime favorite movie, and that is among one of the greatest soliloquies of all time.

    X

  5. Mike Parker on February 22, 2006 at 1:35 pm

    Wow … one of the eerie coincidental moments: I just watched Blade Runner last weekend.

    “Shakes? Me too. I get ‘em bad. It’s part of the business.”

    “I’m not in the business. I am the business.”

  6. ala on February 22, 2006 at 2:17 pm

    i am not so attached to personal belongings or momentos (ok, maybe i’ve saved a few baby trinkets) but i greatly value important cultural artworks and architecture. i was so upset today when i read about the shiite shrine in samarra, iraq being destroyed. it is such a loss for all of us… when i think of edvard munch’s “the scream” or henry moore’s sculpture being stolen, i get so saddened.

  7. Drex Davis on February 22, 2006 at 2:36 pm

    Kaimi,
    Will you email me when you get a moment? I’d like to see if I can replicate parts of this post, with credit, for a scrapbooking site . . . I think that people interested in memory preservation would love these thoughts.

    Very articulate. As one who loves to hold on to things to serve as memory-aids for my “bad” memory, I wholly relate to your thoughts.

    Best,
    Drex

  8. Ryan on February 22, 2006 at 3:42 pm

    I throw things away like a madman. I love the feeling of taking boxes of old stuff and unloading it into the dumpster, never to clutter my closet again. Yet I relate to Kaimi’s sentiments in one way: On my mission, a good member of our ward passed away. He was one of those guys who seemed to know everything about everything and I remember, like Kaimi, mourning not the passing of his soul to the other side, but the loss of information he stored that would no longer be available to us on earth. That was a sad realization for me.

    But I still throw stuff away!! :)

  9. greenfrog on February 22, 2006 at 3:51 pm

    Kaimi,

    Does your attraction to and involvement in mementos of the past diminish or enhance your awareness of and involvement in the present?

  10. Nehringk on February 22, 2006 at 4:30 pm

    These thoughts on the preciousness of memory and its intimate relation to mortality — and our deepening sense of our own mortality — really resonate with me. When I was dating my to-be-wife back in the late ’60s, her family had a strange friend by the name of Bernice. Bernice one of those likable but daft old “maiden aunts” who seem as though they must be characters in a novel, not real people. She lived in a house a few miles from where my future in-laws lived, and one weekend when I was in Ohio visiting, Marilyn and I went to visit Bernice at her place. It was a strange delight.

    I joined the Army, we got married, had kids, got out of the Army, went to shcool, had more kids, went to grad school, and eventually (1978) wound up living three miles away from Marilyn’s folks — and about a half-mile away from Bernice’s. But Bernice was no longer there; she had died a few years before. But her house was still there, deserted, and we would often walk by it and reminisce. Bernice’s nephew inherited the property, and the house just sat there unused for a couple of decades. I can remember passing the house many times and thinking, some day maybe our house will be deserted like this, after we are gone. It was a haunting thought.

    Last year, Bernice’s house was torn down, but it still haunts me when I pass by. I think of my house, and my body.

  11. Wilfried on February 22, 2006 at 9:49 pm

    Beautiful post, Kaimi. It resonates. For a few decades now I and others have been struggling to have the Church in our mission field preserve old manuals, programs of meetings, artifacts made for cultural evenings, announcements… All these testify of the daily reality of our pioneer converts. One day those memories should have, for the history of God’s Kingdom in our country, the same value as Mormon documents wirtten and published in the 1830s and 1840s. But we need to watch so carefully… One “diligent clean-up” of an attic or a basement can become an unrecoverable disaster. I wish the calling of a local historian and archivist would be considered as vital as branch president or bishop.

  12. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 22, 2006 at 10:38 pm

    The post resonates for me as well.

    When I was young, I didn’t trouble to save things. But after David and Davey died, I saved everything. I felt I was saving a piece of them.

    I remember going to the library. It used to be that every time we went, Jessica would ask for a dollar, donate and write her name on a donor shape that they would put up. For months after she died, I’d spot (and take home) paper cut-outs with her name written on them.

    We had so many Christmas ornaments as well …

    Some things you just let go of, some things you don’t. I still don’t know how to make which which. If it isn’t nailed down, my wife is ready to cycle it out, I’d keep everything, even old shoes. We find a balance, mostly hers, but I keep things.

    I find Google’s desktop search so useful, it searches through all my old e-mails, except the compressed AOL ones destroyed by system failures, reinstalls and bad software. Eudora e-mails have proven more resilant and my real time back-ups are my one concession to my worries.

    But I find things. Bad files on my website, lost chains of data, old memories. The journal I kept for several years in the 90s was stolen. My memories from that time are so shifting and lost. I’ll never recover that time or those thoughts in this life. All the thief got was a freebie briefcase, a journal and a set of scriptures with my name on them. What did they gain from that?

    I visit old houses, with the footprints and handprints of our children in the concrete we poured.

    Some times I feel like too much is left behind, and look forward with longing to the restoration of all things, when those losses will be meaningless.

  13. Mark N. on February 23, 2006 at 1:00 am

    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.
    Now, if you can just subscribe to the theory of parallel universes, you can imagine that nothing is ever lost. There are, for example, any number of universes where Martin Harris didn’t lose a very important manuscript, and where John Lennon still lives and still writes songs.

  14. Elisabeth Calvert Smith on February 23, 2006 at 11:13 am

    Kaimi – this is a beautiful post. I share your desire to keep and preserve memories. I’ve found great comfort in the past by pouring my heart out onto the pages of a journal, and reading those entries later. That said, I don’t keep a journal as regularly anymore, because I’ve decided that no matter how powerful and meaningful memories are, well, they’re just memories. Time passes, the landscape changes, and these memories take on a life of their own (See Ronan’s excellent post on this at BCC). People can easily misinterpret and misunderstand these memories, including their authors. And, as an attorney and a philosopher yourself, who is to say that the recorded memory is the “trueâ€? memory?

    But reminiscing and remembering can be a wonderfully healing activity. You quote “Blade Runner”, I’ll quote Simon and Garfunkel:

    Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
    A time of innocence, a time of confidences
    Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
    Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you

  15. Kaimi Wenger on February 23, 2006 at 5:48 pm

    Drex,

    I’m flattered that you want to use part of this. As long as you’re giving attribution, you can go ahead.

    Greenfrog,

    Interesting question. I think it’s a little of both. If I’m not as intent on trying to _remember_ what I do, then I can enjoy it more at the time. If I don’t have a memento, then I spend more energy on trying to imprint it into my mind – and sometimes, less time enjoying.

    Ethesis,

    I especially like your thoughts. I’m very glad that my own memories do not have to bear the same weight.

    Elisabeth,

    Thanks for the Simon & Garfunkel. (It’s amazing how many songs deal with this concept – from songs by Def Leppard and the Cure, from my younger years, to that Nickelback song that plays every 10 minutes on the radio now.) I agree that it can be a wonderful healing activity, and I appreciate your thoughts on the idea.

  16. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 23, 2006 at 10:34 pm

    BTW, greenfrog — are you the same guy who was my next door neighbor on the mormon web ring (I was at http://adrr.com/living/e01.htm)?

  17. annegb on February 24, 2006 at 9:06 am

    Ryan, I’ve made “the garbage can is your friend” my mantra. The older I get, the more junk I have. I bet your house has good feng shui.

    Kaimi, I just can’t take this seriously after reading the snarkernacle. After hearing your voice. Are you playing with our heads?

    Also, I’d appreciate it if you guys would add the word “A” to your title so I can get to you first instead of last. I think I’m missing a lot of good stuff. thanks.