Or so it seems. . . Here's the truth. I'm aging and so are my contemporaries, which I'm reminded every time I open Facebook. My mind is full of memories--many of which often elude me, often fade in and out. It's all part of the process I'm told. The short term doesn't work as well, but the long term keeps on giving, and sometimes in remarkable detail. There have been countless times I've said to myself: "I'll never forget this moment." But I do and I have. I like to remind my students that I've probably forgotten more experiences than they've had simply because I've seen more, done more, and lived longer.
In the past I've given students a writing assignment: Write about a memorable experience, I ask of them, and what I get are car wrecks, dying grandparents, divorces, other memorable events that are predominantly tragic. Rarely does anyone write about a positive experience, a joyous moment, something that changed a life beyond simply writing about loss. Perhaps we're all a bit guilty this way. The older we become the more we know and understand that everyone's life is tragic to a degree and that suffering cannot be measured.
See that boy in the photograph? The one in the striped shirt? His name is Rick. He had his share of tragedy, abused by a stepbrother, a soul lost in Vietnam, alcoholism, homelessness, esophgeal cancer and then a brain tumor. Finally in hospice care and then his death a few months back. I didn't know him well the last couple years of his life. We were estranged by his alcoholism and by distance.
But when I look at this photo, I don't think about those things. I don't want to. What I want to think about is the time we were chased out of a field by a German Shepard, how we leapt over a barbed wire fence, tearing our trousers. I want to think about how we laughed about it, how we told the story over and over. We were twelve and ten. He was younger. I want to remember a time in Bay Port, Michigan, when the water in Wildfowl Bay was so shallow one year we nearly walked to North Island, about three miles off shore. How we just kept walking to see how far we could get before we'd have to swim, and the carp that swam passed, startling us, making us wish we had spears or bow and arrows. I want to remember all the times we went fishing, and how I made Rick laugh when I threw my nightcrawler into the lake and said, "You're free to go." Because everything is funny when you're a boy.
As someone who tries to write, these are the experiences in my real life I want to remember, but I think I'll share the tragedy in fiction, where it belongs. I think I'll put it there because there's so much of it and I'm tire of thinking about it.