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"I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather my spark burn out in a brilliant blaze than be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy, permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time." ~Jack London

Monday, October 02, 2006


Her memory has shifted. It’s moved away from the day to day occurrences she needs to track, away from the past decade of family affairs and important events, away from what has happened this morning, this afternoon, ten minutes ago. It’s moved back, back, back through the timeline of her life.

She can’t recall who was on the phone when she answered a few hours ago, but she can remember the trees in her backyard in 1920s India with such fervor, such precision, that it feels as though she is creating them now, here, in front of my very eyes. The feel of their trunks, the scent of their leaves, the look of their limbs baking in the Indian heat. It’s all there. Her eyes spark up a bit. I remember now, yes, now I remember.

On Friday night, I babysat for a little girl I haven’t seen in over six months. I still call her “little,” although she had grown half a foot since I had seen her last. Little girls have a way of doing that. She lives behind the school I spent thirteen years of my life in, and we spent the night giggling about the silliness of the homecoming events taking place a few feet away. We could hear the announcer, the same man who sent his booming voice over the field in my childhood, enthusiastically call each grade up to do their cheer. We listened to their cheers. I remembered ours, the lyrics, the rhythm, the dance steps. It felt like a lifetime ago.

I spent Saturday with a friend I’ve known and loved for nineteen of my twenty-one years. We went and watched the children I teach walk down the runway in a Baby Gap fashion show, then did some fashion shopping of our own, then wandered into a Starbucks for some overpriced coffee. We caught up on everything we’d neglected to tell each other over the past few months. We reconnected. We had a day that made it feel as though not a moment had been lost between us. It was a really lovely day.

That night, we met up with two more of our girlfriends for drinks and, for whatever reason, ended up discussing old field trips, and old crushes that seem silly in retrospect, and former teachers whom we’ll never tire of teasing. We chatted for hours about our pasts, each of us remembering something different, each of us combining pieces of our memories to form a history of friendship. I realized how well we all know each other, how much we have all shared, how amazing it is to have friends like that. We laughed the night away.

I was reminded of this night at lunch the next day with my grandmother as she sorted through her memories, finding stories of India and the two china dog figurine bookends she had as a child. It was here, on her eighty-seventh birthday, that she came to remember her life at age seven and eight.

Maybe, I thought, maybe our minds really do come full circle that way. Maybe we reach a certain point in life when we begin to clean out the attic of our minds, taking down each box and going through the things we’ve stored there, piece by piece. Maybe in our final moments, we are not seeing our lives flash before our eyes, but only this one last piece. This first piece we decided to store oh so many years ago, this first image of memory that has also become our last. Maybe we build it all up only to one day take it down, clear it out, share it with others so that it may be stored in their attics, in their minds, long after we have gone from this earth.

I’d like to think that I would know the scent and feel of Indian trees whether or not I had ever dared to see one for myself. I’d like to think my grandmother knows that too.