Quick, look now or you will miss it! The drip of water in the cavern. The golden hour painting the monastery’s bell tower orange. The lone tree illuminated on the ridge. The sound of the perrito’s nails on the stone as she runs to the door. Little moments, little grace notes in the song of our shared memory.
The hours march on and on and on. There is too much for us to store it all. So, we only keep indexes of the hours that have past. To really remember, we have to slowly comb through the more cumbersome, often mundane things that point beyond: the calendar, the ticket stub from delayed flight, a tattered journal on a dusty shelf, a forgotten souvenir, maybe just a badly composed picture in a phone.
But this is why commemorations are important. Choose any day. And use its hours as a frame. Peer through the frame, looking back through the years. Like rings in a tree trunk we go around and around. Slowly eroding each year like a canyon wall and stones that release after a storm. We run out of space on the page, erase the words, start a new drawing on top of the old.
Birthdays are an arbitrary choice. Perhaps not to the one doing the birthing, but to the born there was nothing that came before. And so, the clock starts at the day we arrive. We come into a world that existed before us, yet how can we think of this world without us as anything but a ghost world? We track our progress by the year as we go forward. But who is to say that the ghosts are tracking their progress moving back? We may only move direction, but time may not.
The Saguaros are said to symbolize people. Elders, souls of the ancestors. We drive to see them, in the desert, the living listening for messages from beyond. They may get up and move when we turn our backs and go home.
Memories accumulate like drifts, shaped by the weather. They can be blown away all together, or solidified into stone. We celebrate in order to created new memories. Yet the new are already connected and born from what came before. A net of memories, a root system that goes unseen.
But, above we have seasons. Outside of the desert the trees are hard at work. Autumn and time to manifest the last little bit of growth and then…let go. The leaves brilliant and bright. Pine-deep greens, Reds that look fiery and charred. Yellows of sunny days past. Bisque-white to gray and dun-colored dust underfoot. We walk through the forest in fall and it is a walk over and through time.
Nothing is still for us. We move and while mostly we move around a set orbit of daily life some time we break free. Before we arrive in foreign places we cannot imagine. Once home, we do a better job. We remember some pieces. The long bleak drive to the monastery. A smile on a stranger’s face. Miraculous rain in a desert. In the course of a day what is parched can become a lake and then a story.
I want you to remember these places. Not the places, but the sensations that were so sweet that time nearly stopped. The coffee beans we ground by hand at the campsite at Joshua Tree with S and T. The bourbon in the candlelight in Kentucky. The first blaze of the antique mezcal on your tongue. I remember these as I wander among the moments that made up my day, April 5.
There is a memorial sign, where we pause to consider those that came before us. Here, the trail gets steeper as we get past the first saddle. It seems like time slows down and there is nothing more than concentrating on the next breath. The next step, the small progress that, with patience, will get us to the top. It is true. We do not need to look backwards to the places below us. If we did, we would never get to the summit. But, as we descend in the fading light the path looks different from the opposite direction. I wonder if we are watched. Accompanied by ghosts, we continue.
Perhaps the celebration is in the gifting, not the receiving. The mind is not always a peaceful place. But looking back through the years, on these days, my birthdays, I find there is calm. There are welcoming beacons, like campfires pushing back the dark and the unimportant thoughts. Memories where I can always go and warm myself, comfort myself with the face I love, share a familiar song, become mesmerized by the crackling dance of the flames.
You are my love and our love is stronger than either you or I. A joined spirit. It lives because we animate it. Our memories joined are a strong bond. Birthday experiences, shared memories, reasons to celebrate.
A thank you for all you have done to make my days special. And a gift to you, that is from me and cannot be bought. All yours, and only yours, as you are the one I share these memories with today, the one I want to celebrate in the future.
This piece is part of the #52essays2017 challenge where I will share one essay a week in 2017. To learn more about this challenge or to participate, check out writer Vanessa Martir’s website and post about it.