My Father has always called me, “Kitten.” Ever since I can remember, so many of our conversations started, in his long slow Delta drawl, “Hey, Kitten…”
My Father is a good man. He has led a calm, small, and remarkable life. Simple and surprising and good... a life of moments that reached back years before his own life and will live forward forever through mine; the lives before us continue through us, because we are now the ones to remember.
For, now, my Father is forgetting. The sharp edges of memory are fading, the lines erasing a little each day. Each conversation becomes reminiscence for me and a reminder to him. The conversation is changing as we reverse roles, teacher and child, parent and adult. Or so it seems…
Lives, all lives, are puzzles, carefully constructed of experience and memory and longing, of challenge and failure and victory over all. They reside in faith and knowledge and instinct…and they never stop: we are all endlessly evolving sculptures, changing shape and purpose and relation. As strands of a fabric, ripped and rippling in some breeze both from us and against, we flutter together, touching and drifting, but ultimately never unraveling.
The simple gift of family is ease. Oh, it’s not always easy; in fact it seldom is…but at its best the connections of family are comfortable and quiet. Beyond the rush of news and expectation, after the dance of disappointment and euphoria, past the embrace of challenge and realization, is the quiet understanding of our ties, inalienable and irremovable. At the end of the day, and in so many of the moments passing through it, we are fashioned and formed into one shape, very much the shape of our first moments.
We never really forget as a family, as parent and child, as spouse or friend, as constant companion or fleeting stranger. We all, and each, remember. We keep the line moving. We remember: to remind and instruct, or to goad and threaten, or to caution and prepare. Memory serves. Memory is not fantasy; it is real life. Sure, it is sometimes embellished and embarrassing, and sometimes diminished and disappointing, but it remains real nonetheless, a kernel of life split and growing.
We are people of stories, and our place is the stories of people. We use these stories, need these stories, to propel us as people and as a people. They keep us encouraged and honest and learning. They humble and compel and impel us. They show us the way, and they are the way. Memory, lived and repeated, is necessary for it becomes the line itself; not a measuring and not a goal, but the path of learning and understanding and knowing.
The menu of our lives lives in memory. Certainly it is enlivened by repetition, a frequent return to the good and comfortable; but it is made glorious by discovery, a quick moment of change and recognition. And in those moments, whether in the midst of recall or on the edge of awareness, we learn. Over time or in an instant, we learn. By trial or by error, we learn.
We are all family with memory fading, because we are all transitory, in life together in lives ephemeral. We all must remind each other. Only we know what replaces memory; only we know what was there before the reminder, before the reminiscence, before. But we do remember, at the end of the day we do remember. And at the end of the day we must also embrace the knowledge and understanding and wisdom there. For in that remembrance is life and freedom and, certainly, truth. We must always be hopeful of that.
Happy Father’s Day.