The Memory Jar
About 5 years ago, I read about the idea of creating a memory jar for each year. The way it works is to keep a jar starting on January 1st, and every time there is something that happened that you’d want to recall, you put a little reminder in there or a note.
I had a mason jar filled with kids’ concert tickets, post-it notes with things like “OC Boardwalk G&G” written on it or “home run” or “Shrek concert” with the date on it. At the end of the year, I’d make the kids sit at the table and listen as we read aloud the folded pieces of paper what were contained in that jar. Sometimes we’d talk about something fun but mostly, it was an exercise of just getting through it. You see, these are memories for all three of us but they were more for me, to be honest. At least they were for now.
I live a lot in the space of memories. I always have. In some ways, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t, even when I was very young. I had this anxious feeling of grasping going back as far as I could remember. I was the kid that did not want to leave the amusement park until it closed and grew up to be the guy that didn’t want to leave a gathering if we were all enjoying the moment, even if there was a pre-agreement with the wife before-hand. I just couldn’t let go – as if knowing that I was just a blink away from moving from “in the moment” to “remember that time”.
My name is Marc and I’m a memory-aholic. I am a hoarder of memories. I have letters and photos which I haven’t looked at in decades. I would envision myself alone in my old age reviewing a life gone by. Almost every song, smell, food, place, sound, hell, even cooking utensil, can trigger a vision of something or someone from the past. It’s nutty and weird and frustrating.
So, you can imagine what automatic reminders from Facebook or my iPhone do to me. “Can’t you see, I’m trying to be in the moment, here?”, I want to send directly to Mark Zuckerberg.
The space of memories is far and wide. It is around every corner I walk or drive – the monkey bars where the kids used to play and I was just waiting for my son to fall, the old neighborhood where the family would take walks or the kids would ride their bikes, the hotel I stayed in that one night when I found myself in a deep, dark place. They are at every turn.
The space of memories is insidious if you don’t make an appointment with it – taking up much of your day, organizing two decades worth of photos on your laptop or asking you to consider your next move based on what memory it, too, will create one day.
My memories are not confined to a jar but I wish they were – a place where I could simply store them and tuck them away on a shelf or in the back of a closet only to forget about them until the end of the year and then empty them out to remember, but not to relive.
It’s one thing to memorialize. It’s another to romanticize. I understand the lure of a vision board – it’s about the future, not the past. It seems to me that the balance lies somewhere in between – respecting and learning from what has happened in order to realize and accept what is yet to come. I suppose that middle ground is just today, whether we appreciate it or not.
I am learning still, years after the fact, the profound guilt and sadness that informs a lot of my memories due to my divorce. I keep moving through it as I don’t believe in “getting over it”. I also have to be honest that, while the idea of the memory jar is a nice one, there was a lot of me wanting to make sure there was a record for my kids of how we lived, still as a family, albeit a different one. I wanted to remove some of the guilt I had in not being able to make it work and for having some part in reframing what their memories would be as part of a split household.
We didn’t do a memory jar this year. Instead, we talked (ok, mostly texted) a lot about the future. We did this in the past, too, but this time, there was nothing pulling us toward remembering anything we might not want to anymore. Maybe the best way to “get through” is to keep looking at the fuzzy future that lies ahead without thinking about the clear picture of the past you left behind. The truth is that it’s not as clear as we make it out to be, either. It’ll be there if you want it, but you don’t need a jar, or a shelf, or a photo collage to get at it.
Until next time,Marc