Memories – Not Selfies

2016 May 5
by Dr. Zachary White

It was the way she smiled back at me that I froze in my mind. Hollowed cheeks and bald head but for a small fray of hair reminding us of what used to be, her teeth shone in ways I hadn’t noticed before. The scar running across her head framed her deep brown eyes and widening, child-like grin spread across her ashen face as if it was boldly protesting what was happening inside of her.

Maybe you remember watching your loved one staring out his bedroom window, minutes before you were scheduled to leave for the airport after having spent a week at home visiting? Or maybe you remember trying to capture a last moment in time—listening in tune with her labored breathing, imagining what she was thinking about as you sat nearby, unsure of when you might be able to return?

In the midst of the uncertainty of what will happen between departure and our next arrival—we can’t help but cling to certain memories. But our memories of those we love aren’t like the selfies most others take and post across social media. Our freeze frames of those we love are special because they are . . .

(1) Deeply Ordinary—Selfies require the art and performance of posing. Nobody poses in our freeze frames. We don’t want to capture life—for others—we want to remember life as it was lived. We want to remember what happens in the middle of the ordinariness of life, not on top of the tallest mountain or walking on stage to receive an award. Unlike the staged, selfie moments that live only long enough to be noticed and celebrated by those who know of us, our mental freeze frames invite deep awareness of the authentic, uncelebrated moments that bring us closer to our loved ones.

(2) Sense Based—Our memories can’t be contained in the visual dimension alone. The sound of a loved one’s voice makes a terrible selfie but a lasting freeze frame. The aroma of the food he baked in the kitchen. The way she sipped her coffee. The sound of his rising voice when he became passionate about an issue. The rounding of the lines around her eyes when she laughed. The touch of his gnarled hands. The strength of her embrace. The smell of perfume. The sound of his favorite shoes as he walked with purpose across the hardwood floor. The parts of our loved ones that we hold sacred in our minds can’t be understood only by what we see. Our freeze frames can’t ever be divorced from our senses because they are multi-dimensional, evoking textured awareness that connects us to the presentness of our past.

(3) Private Property—Memories we consciously freeze frame are not meant for others. Selfies are public property whereas our memories are special because they are ours alone. We are needed for them to make sense. We are the freeze framer and the sole interpreter. Everything must be translated—that’s exactly the point. Our memories can never stand alone. We must always be with them. Selfies require us to think of others first—our desired audience—and then contort our lives and our bodies to create the image we think others want to see. Our mental freeze frames begin and end with us—they are all about what we want to feature and how we want to see the world. Our memory is our truth. Period.

(4) Time Defiant—Selfies inevitably fall prey to the whimsy of time. They are
time-stamped and quickly reduced to the digital trash folder of the past—constantly replaced with newer and bolder and fresher images for our audiences to see and admire. On the other hand, our memories are timeless, not timely—they can be accessed whenever we want and need them. The sound of our loved one’s laugh can still resonate even in silence. It finds us and surrounds us when we need it most. When the room is silent, we are transported in ways that allow us to forget where we are and to live in a space that doesn’t discriminate between past and present.

If you’re like me—there is so much you know and understand about someone you’ve cared for that you won’t be able to share with others. Sometimes, I’m deeply saddened that certain memories are mine alone—incapable of being shared with others in ways that only I understand to be true. But I am also comforted by the reminder that I am the sole writer and director and producer and audience of my memories. And so, they can’t be tainted by others. They can’t be compromised by others. I don’t need to explain or justify or crop or add a filter to improve them. They are uniquely mine—and because of that—they are perfect just the way they are. The one permanent in a world of change.

6 Responses leave one →
  1. May 5, 2016

    Beautiful and so, so true. I am thinking of the pictures in my mind of my loved ones. My Dad’s hands after his stroke, my Mom’s crossed legs peeking out from her nightgown (her skin is thin and shiny, but her legs are still athletic and shapely even at 94) and the feel of my son’s unique hug. His hands are closed in fists and the inside of his wrist presses hard against my back because of his CP. It’s the most beautiful hug in the world.

  2. May 6, 2016

    Thank you for sharing your fully textured memories, Donna. Beautiful!

  3. Octavia Porter permalink
    May 9, 2016

    I can relate with so many aspects of your piece. Especially the sense based section. I can still smell the coffee in the bottom of the cups of a couple I used to care for. I can remember the smell of the sugar cookies we would bake on Fridays, and even the smell of the newspaper that Paul Sr. flipped through daily. (I offered to read it to him as his site weakened, but being the prideful man he was he refused the offers). All these memories brings a smile to my face.
    I really enjoyed reading your post.

  4. May 10, 2016

    Thanks for sharing your memories. So glad it brought a smile to your face.

  5. Norris Frederick permalink
    July 7, 2016

    Zachary, thank you so much for this insightful and evocative article contrasting memories and selfies. The phenomenology of a memory can never be separated from a person’s consciousness, as you so vividly show us. You are helping us to form and treasure memories. Thank you.

  6. July 7, 2016

    Dr. Frederick, Thanks so much for the comments. So appreciated.

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