I live in the present, but the past holds on to me. The sorrows of the past are gone, the loves of the past are gone, the promises of the past are gone, yet they are still part of who I am now. They are gone, but I bear their impressions, not so much like fossils, but perhaps, come to think of it, a little bit like fossils, still more like the shaping influence of wind and water on stones--not so much a fixed photographic image of the past as an abstract, attitudinal, vestigial pattern.
I have forgotten much ... involuntarily and voluntarily. Not every memory is something I need, and I am not the sort of person to cherish memories indiscriminately. I am not a hog for nostalgia. I am not a strict preservationist. We have to chose our memories carefully. According to modern theories of consciousness, our memory is something we actively construct ... it is an act of will. Memory itself is a means for composing our identity, our present state, giving the moment right now some kind of shape in the context of what we remember of lost moments.
I think it's bad advice to tell the bereaved that they will "get over it." They won't. They may forget, but that's unlikely. What's more likely is that, to cite a fairly common expression these days, they will find a "new normal." What doesn't kill us becomes a part of the "new normal."
I have loved a lot of people--not nations or a whole world of people, but a charm-bracelet full of friends and lovers over time. I'd roughly estimate 50 people or so. I am guessing, though. I still have feelings--feelings very much like love--for every one of them, even some one-night stands. Still, I have let them go, too.
How can this be? How can I have feelings for ex-lovers, and yet no longer want to be with them? Well, the answer is, I suppose, I have been with them.
They have left their imprints on me and I on them ... and then we reached a point in our lives when we had no more room in ourselves for each other's imprint. But I have not wished to forget them, to purge them from my mind (as in the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and have not wished to rid myself of their influence on my present condition.
There are, no doubt, some old friends and lovers I would happily bring back into my life now, but even then they would have to return under new circumstances--circumstances that they to some degree brought about, but are no longer a presence in them--and in a real sense we both would have to build a new friendship and a new love out of the existing materials--keeping in mind that what once was, no longer is, no longer exists.
Out of my will and my memory, I have a certain fidelity to times past. I celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, especially birthdays, which are kind of my thing to do. My house is a small, unimpressive museum of artifacts left to me by people who are no longer around. Where I am now, I see some drawings by Dutch, whom I haven't seen in 22 years, I see some bookends my mother gave me, I see photographs from Vince, I see a "box" made of pine needles my grandmother made. I see a figurine Luis once handled. From time to time, though, I throw out some things that I had once thought had sentimental value but, as it turns out, they do not ... or I find that they present a false notion of who I am now and of the effect the times they represent have on me.
I can't speak for anyone else, but I was not built to love forever ... or to grieve forever ... but that is not to say that my loves and griefs have not become a real part of who I am. And unlike what some people report, new loves have never entirely wiped the slate clean of my old loves. I grasp ... or try to grasp ... the moment while it's here.
Nothing is forever.
I am faithful to love not because I will always love, but because I will choose to keep that love in my memory. It has its place--a revered place--in how I think of me and my life--but that does not mean I am willing to pretend it is still a living presence. And I am faithful to my grief, to my loneliness, to my triumph, to my laughter in pretty much the same way.