The quirky nature of memory

I have a long time interest in memory -- memory plays an important role in the work in psychotherapy. Almost 2 years ago I wrote about memory in relation to  painting by Magritte, La Memoire  and wrote then:   

The words "memoir" and "memory" come to us from the middle English/Anglo-French word memorie, and from the Latin memoria, derived from memor, which means "mindful." Russell Lockhart  in Words As Eggs: Psyche in Language and Clinic  traces it also to an Indo-European root smer- -- which in one form refers to grease and fat. How is memory connected to ‘fat’? Think about how difficult it is to get rid of fat.  It sticks. It adheres. It won't leave. It leaves traces. A memory is what sticks, what adheres in the mind. Memory is the fat of the mind.  Related words that share the history of memoir include remember, commemorate, memorable, memento, and memorandum. The word mourn also shares its derivations. The same root that gave rise to memory gives rise to mourn. When someone has passed away or slipped away, we mourn that memory. When we are in mourning, we are deeply engaged with the memory of that person. Our mind is full of memories. We can only mourn through memory and with memory. We mourn for what we had and can now have only in memory.

A memory is what sticks, what adheres.

A few weeks ago, I joined Facebook, just to see what all the fuss was about. I am not terribly active there but because of it, several people from my past have contacted me, including people from high school.

Now when I was 14, my family moved from Germany, where my father had been stationed, to a small town in Pennsylvania. There was a Army facility there, staffed mostly by civilians and around 50 members of the Army. It was my first time in a civilian school, the first time with kids who had known each other since kindergarten, and it was a bewildering world for me. In an Army school, making friends is relatively easy because we all know that all of us will be moving and so friends must be made and friendships cemented quickly because they will soon end to be replaced by new ones. We knew we would likely never see those friends again so there was no feeling of enduring friendships; they were relationships that allowed us the company of others in our same boat. And there was only one other Army kid in my new school. I was not a happy camper. I had no idea how to find my way, I was different at an age when difference most definitely not to be celebrated. That first year there was long and hard. 

When I graduated from high school and went off to college, Pennsylvania became a part of my past. My parents moved shortly after I began college and I have never returned there. 

So it felt strange to be contacted on Facebook by people whose names I remember from high school. The names were familiar but I couldn't remember anything specific about the people who sent me friend invitations.  Then came a note from a man whose name was familiar -- I knew he had been in my homeroom. He said he had often wondered what had happened to me, which surprised me because those years have been placed so firmly for me into my past and not revisited. I responded with pleasantries -- we shared a little about were our life journeys have taken us. 

And then today, he sent this -- 

"I owe you an apology.  Remember when we were at ***** Jr High, and you baked that beautiful little cherry pie?  I took it and placed it under your seat in Home Room, you were out someplace, and when you came back you were looking all over the place for that pie.  Finally I went to take it from under your seat and as I was lifting it to your desk-top it fell out of my hands and it splattered all over the floor.  You were so proud of that pie, and I felt terrible.  Knowing how proud of it you were, I knew there was just no sense in saying anything, and I didn't know what to say cause I knew that an, "I'm sorry" just wouldn't do - it wouldn't even be close, I really did feel bad about that, and after all these years I am apologizing for my clumsy act.  I shouldn't have done it, I know, but sometimes when you just want to have some fun, things go wrong and there's nothing you can say or do to help anything.  That incident has been on my mind often and after 46 years I want to say I apologize for that stupid act."

And I was stunned. I remember the pie. I remember being angry that it was ruined. I can't remember being proud of it, probably because I was so generally unhappy. I remember the pie I have talked about the ruining of my first pie as an excuse for why my pies always look pretty sorry with patched crusts. Not that there is much of a real connection, but you know, it's been an excuse. But I long ago forgot any details about that incident, other than that I baked the pie and it never made it home.

So the memory of that pie adhered to both of us, to me because it kind of summed up a bad time in my life and to him because he felt regret for having caused it to be ruined.

Of course I forgive him. And I am charmed and touched that he carried that memory and felt moved to apologize. And so a tear in the fabric of both of our lives got mended.

© Cheryl Fuller, 2007. All  rights reserved.