Wednesday, September 8, 2010

the burden of memory

We're slogging through a bit of a memory-swamp lately, as we round the one-year anniversary of everything to do with Joe's lymphoma diagnosis and treatment.  It's bewildering to consider that it was a year ago -- in so many ways it feels like yesterday or last week.  On the other hand, I look at Joe, back to his same-same pre-cancer appearance, and I can't believe it ever happened.

The cancer-memory is always there, lingering nasty little ghost just beyond our ken, making its presence more felt now, a buzz of anxiety barely under the surface, making us sleepless and restless and a bit at odds with our surroundings.  Especially when the lights go off and we're left alone with it.

At the same time, it's been interesting to me how many reminders there are on television about 9/11, exhortations to never forget, invitations to re-live it.  Since the fucking cancer was our own personal 9/11, the destruction of all that we took for granted, all the 9/11 hoop-de-doo has been particularly grating on my nerves.

What if we just forgot?  Would we be better off?

I don't say this in any way to demean or discount the experience of everyone who suffered and suffers from the events of that day. I'm just wondering how it helps us to remember stuff all the time, to make personal or national holidays out of Chemo #1 or whatever other really bad shit has happened.

Jasper had cancer last year, too, and I wonder how he thinks about that experience, if at all.  He never knew he had cancer; we were the ones suffering from that knowledge.  He just watched us all make a huge fuss over him and wondered at the tears and extra treats, rode with us to Davis to the big animal hospital filled with even more simultaneously disturbing and enticing smells (they see big animals there, too, cows and horses), maybe remembers that we left him at that place for a few days and that when he woke up, maybe he remembers that his mouth felt funny and his legs didn't want to hold his weight.  And what was up with being in a cage for a couple of days?  But then we picked him up and it was back to the same routine, life at home, cozy, plenty of food, long walks, squirrels to chase.  My birthday can come and go and he doesn't know that that's the same day that he was diagnosed.  His own birthday can come and go and he's none the wiser or sadder.

It's great to be Homo sapiens but it's also such a pain in the ass to have this capacious brain and its capabilities and its memories.  I want desperately to be more Canis lupus familiaris, forget about the bad stuff and just open my eyes daily to a fresh start, unburdened by any sense of the past.

So, we're slogging, remembering but wishing we could forget, living with the ghost and wishing we didn't, accepting everything and wishing we could just excise that really, really scary, awful part and be exactly who we were before.  Of course, that's impossible, and who are we to reject this great gift of evolution, this manifested consciousness with all its glory and sometimes pain?

It's the big challenge, I suppose, this living with the burden of memory, not letting the past be who you are now.  The problem really is with "not letting the past be," our over-busy minds dredging it up, turning it over all the time.

I do think we'd be better off if we could, maybe not forget, but find a different way to remember, one not so fraught with fear and anxiety.  Slowly, slowly, we're finding solid ground ourselves, but until then, it's a little muddy on the way.

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