memories

You’re walking. That much is clear. The water and rocks around you are clear as well. There’s hardly any swell so you must have decided it was safe to walk. Curious, that your first thought was of safety. Survival surely is a trait built deep in us. 

You turn slowly to see where you have walked. For seeing the path behind is the quickest way to establish how you arrived. All you can see, in the mist-strangled distance, is a grand house that looks something like a hotel you once visited. Or was it your father? Regardless, it’s a beacon, a compass bearing, a waypoint. 

You take a step towards the hostel – or palace, or museum perhaps – but as soon as you look down to your feet to ensure your present is as stable as your future, the building seems to have shifted. Has it moved farther to the left? Was it just a trick of the light through the mist? Neither of us have left our rocky foundations, but now something taps a knowing note on your heart and you consider that perhaps there was a very valid reason that just a moment ago you were facing away from the hotel rather than towards it… your next step will require some thought.

That’s the thing about memory. It’s not perfect. Even when we think it is, when we are so sure of how it happened that we can taste the meal or hear the song or feel the breeze as if we were there again, the memory of the moment might not be as it was but rather how we remember it. Many have researched the connections, differences and conflicts between memory and history. It is a battle that I believe rages within all our minds at any given time. It is the prerogative of the present to cast judgement on our past.

This can be either a boon or a loss. If the moment was particularly traumatic for example, perhaps we do indeed actively try to forget. We might think of other things in an attempt to fill the shelf of our mind with so many new memories, pushing older ones further and further towards the edge of unremembered moments that they eventually fall off into the dark. But of course it isn’t that easy. On the one hand, those fallen memories can come back, maybe as we hear someone tell a joke we’d last heard that unremembered night. On the other, we might lose a few extra memories in the push to forget just one. We may in fact come back to our shelf to find things rearranged, some things lost, others added, without intent on our parts.

We can even edit and manipulate our own memories. This too can be voluntary or not as we splice and dice our fragmented and fuzzy thoughts and categorise them as memories. Weird and wonderful dichotomies float past: Was I wearing a blue tie or did I catch the train? Wait, but I don’t catch the train so it must have been a Tuesday which means I probably wore black shoes. Where was I going again? It’s like trying to find the source of the croak in the pond but finding only ripples in the water. Even rereading a written account of our memories… a blog, for example… can surprise us.

How will I remember 2014? Will I carry with me the small wins, the big changes, the heartbreaking concerns, the inspiring reactions… will I take with me splinters of memories: warm smiles, a fit of laughter, heaving tears, angry looks, a slamming door? Will I remember entire conversations or just a few key lines or perhaps just a shadow of the feelings I had whilst chatting? Will I even have a choice as to how my bag of memories is packed?

There are some things that are captured in artefacts such as photos or certificates or products or processes. But these can be seductively selective and misleading. Indeed, some of my own memories are best stored in the memories of others.

We hope that our students carry with them the memories of everything they have done, that they become wiser and better and smarter because of their year’s experience in our care. We hope our sage advice is burned into their minds, that our feedback is forever accessible, that the effort we put into them is remembered. We hope that our colleagues have grown and achieved or surpassed their goals. But surely it’s not good enough to have changed or grown without remembering why and how we have changed. It’s not good enough to have an album full of memories for the perusal of others that simply sits on a shelf but rather we need to have etched a mark on the past which still exists in the present and will continue to exist regardless of whether we remember it or not. The powerful part of being a teacher is that this mark may be left in the minds of our students and colleagues.

So, despite knowing we may forget, or that we will disagree with ourselves, or that others may too… or that history itself may swallow our memories for the sake of creating a larger story beyond our own limited and fragile fragment of the past…

What of 2014 would you like to carry in your own bag of memories into next year?

I dedicate this humble post to all those educators I have had the pleasure of connecting and sharing with in 2014. Whether it was a passing moment or a deep and strong friendship – or something in between – I hope I have contributed to  your memories in a positive and constructive way as I know you have for me.

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