“There will be plenty of time for memories,” I want to say. I get the clear impression that people think memories go no further, really, than the life in which they are generated. If you ask, say, what are memories for?, you are going to find out that nobody has given that question much thought. But you can tell that people are sentimental towards their own memories, like they were sparklers you get to light only on holidays; these memories are not made of strong enough stuff to carry into, say, another life. And that idea (another life) doesn’t get any play around here, either. I am afraid the only way I can make a dent in this situation is to just say, “oh, there will be plenty of time for memories.” When somebody starts provoking everyone to have memories, and the conversation turns into a kind of pass the hat and put a memory in, I want to just thow cold water on the whole mood, by saying, “there will be plenty of time for memories, I am sure.” And then someone might say, “what, do you mean, when we are in nursing homes?” No, I would say, “when we are in the next life.”
But I can’t say that, for you see people are convinced they have to get these stories out before they die, because after they die, the prevailing opinion is, everything will be over. There will be no more memory making! And apparently no memory receiving! Memories are bounded, experiences generate them, somehow, and the memories themselves have a burning fuse that lasts exactly as long as you do. Once the person is extinguished, so are their memories. So don’t put any higher value on them.
For one thing, it is repeatedly established, beyond any doubt, that dead people do not communicate their memories of life. So we have to get those World War II soldiers stories before the old guys pop off. They have been reticent too long. Get a tape recorder! Bring in Ken Burns! Make a documentary, and put it on PBS. That will deaden the issue. But I want to say, “there will be plenty of time in the next life for memories.” And, I think the devilish impulse here is not so much to get the memories, per se, as to finish off the person, exhaust them so we can say, well we heard it all. That was history. That was Uncle Fred. Like he finally confessed, and that might be good for his soul. If he believes he has one, which is his business. It is absolution, for Uncle Fred, that is the best construction you can put on it. It is peace, albeit delusional, but still, peace for Uncle Fred, before he dies.
Nobody cares at all what the content of the memory is, not a whit whether it was the Battle of the Bulge or bilge water. Not a whit, and it is quickly forgotten by the hearer, and the viewer of these palavering documentaries; the whole point was to expunge, expunge the spirit of the person who is at death’s door. And why? Not really for their sake, either. Look at the person holding the tape recorder, if you want to understand what is going on here. They are proving a whole theory of existence. It essentially says: history is arbitrary and meaningless, and people die and are forgotten, and that’s that. This is the truth, and I wash my hands of it. That is why they are so thorough, they are washing their hands of it, life.
And now my sister wants me to interview my mother to get her memories! Before it is too late! Great idea, interview your own mother. I am certainly opposed to this; I would rather just talk to her, and let the chips fall where they may, so to speak. We stumble around in our own kind of fanciful talk pretty good, my mother and I. We don’t need memories; we make things up. But I agree to it, because if I agree it won’t happen anyway, and if I object that will cause a discussion, an uproar even, and both my sister and mother are likely to be exposed, caricatured unfairly, as fatalists. I don’t know how to save them. I just feel like saying, “oh, their will be plenty of time for memories, I am sure of that.”