An essay on memory and photo contributions

Gracie Tyson extends her leg through Développé (Photos by: Maiya Banks)

“Tell me, what do you remember?”

Not much.
I struggle under the weight of the work of trying to dredge up the past. 

I hear no echoing footsteps, catch no scent of simmering cranberry sauce or scorched Brussels sprouts. Shreds of images and sensations begin to catch in the cogs of my brain then evaporate before they can run in front of the projector light of my mind so I can relive them. 

Memories somehow never just roll out as they happened; they’re like dreams — a scene here, or a keen glance or shoulder-slump of disappointment there, drops into consciousness that are suddenly gone. But this is different — here, there’s nearly nothing at all, nothing to be caught and relived.

I remember that I have forgotten that my memory is not my own. I expect it to be something I can beckon at will, as if I had the ability to stand on the rocky shore of the Oregon coast and summon a cold, lively wave to wash over me if I wanted. But memory is communal, a web knit of pathways between people, like the little racetracks that deepen and run between neurons to speed up the process of remembering and imagining (which are nearly one in the same). The little “Remember when…?s” exchanged between people, when they momentarily live in the past as well as present and therefore live more deeply, are what turn a group of people into a community. Shared history is what knits the neurons together.

Every holiday spent with a different family member in a different state quickly eats at these networks of wrinkles in time, as if a spider was trying to crochet its web in a rock in a tidepool, and waves keep washing away the “ties that bind” as they begin to appear.

Holidays, I remember, are about building this communal memory, setting signposts to measure life by (“A year ago today…” “By this time next year…”). 

“Tell me, what do you remember?”

Let me get back to you on that. 
I’ll have to ask the others who were there. Perhaps I ought to share a Christmas with them this year, and ask them to help me find my place in our web.

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