The latin word for memory is memoria. The very sound of that word draws me back into, and forward with, a wave of some emotion I cannot describe. Like the tides I watch from the 26th floor of my apartment building. Even from a distance those tides are rhythmic, unrelenting, unremitting perpetual and ultimately mysterious.
I’ve been trying to make collages the last two weeks, but I hold back, like an upset horse, that just cannot bear going over that hurdle. Not again. I can’t. Yet, like that inevitable tide coming straight towards me, I must face it; the fact that mourning will once again take hold. And every time I do, I think of the one truth I know: we are on this planet to honour just two real and tangible events: life and death. Yet, another pairing of the grand paradox in this life worth pondering.
My mother is 90 years old. Someday she will die. And I will have to be prepared. This year 2020 being the year of Covid 19, means the dropping of that diaphanous veil of breathing in and breathing out - could come sooner than I want it to.
Our culture, this culture in North America is not one that faces death, because we do not observe it. We push it away, cajole it into a corner, and ultimately defend our right to memorialize a death six months after the fact. It’s as if, the ancient display of grief - keening - must be confined to the safe place of happy cheer as the ‘better choice.’ Shrouding emotions with a happy face icon.
I won’t do that. Bring on the tears, the black mantilla mourning veil so that I can honour my dead. But in this moment of ‘the living’ right now while I am constructing collages - I am going through a myriad of photographs from the last 80 years of my mother’s life I just can’t do it. Paradox: contradiction, conflict.
I have to stop after every other photograph because my eyes well up with tears. What is fact in our life, cannot dissuade, discourage, or deter the feeling of sadness in a life passing. I don’t want my mother’s life to pass without the sadness that goes with it passing. And yet… here I am in a paradox stuck dead to rights and centre stage in a riddle provided by God or the Universe or whoever it or that is — because she will simply be gone.
To remember her. To see her at her full glory of youth and ‘nothing can stop me’ in these photos - standing beside her at Christmas, on her birthday, in the summer, in the winter, at the mall, in the garden is both glorious and all consuming in the loss of something …that something - that same something that has us running away from honouring the dead. The deceasing of life; that’s what it’s about. That’s why we grieve because something is gone. We grieve because we loved. A life: irrevocable, irreversible ends.
But in the paradox - incongruity, conundrum - lies the very seed of the continuum, also unrelenting. The ultimate paradox that, perhaps, pushes us forward, just like that tide viewed from the 26th floor of my home.
Yeh, maybe I can do this, because this is what this is, paradox or not.