Time is the Fire

fireI sat with my mother on the sofa and we both admired the fire.

Mum said, “Quick, take a photograph of it, Malini! It’s so beautiful!” 

“Why don’t you take the picture, mum?”

“Oh yes, I forgot, I’ve got a camera here and I can take photos too!”

So we both sat, side by side, taking pictures of the fire, and comparing our images on the digital screen. That’s mine  you’re seeing at the top of this post.

Mum loved it. She couldn’t decide what she was more excited about – the beauty of the fire or the photographs of it that we were both taking.

About 5 minutes later, she said, “Just look at the fire, Malini! Quick, take a photograph of it! It’s so beautiful.

Mum has Alzheimers. Her short term memory is shot, her personality has changed, but she still knows a thing of beauty when she sees it. And the wonderful thing is that because she’s forgotten that she’s seen it just a few minutes ago, she relives the beauty all over again, 5 minutes later. This can get difficult if you’re her carer (that selfless task belongs to my sister), but when I’m visiting, it makes for very easy conversation. I never have to think of new things to say 🙂

Mum laughs a lot, thank God. We tease her and laugh with her at her strange behaviour, and mercifully, she hasn’t lost her sense of humour, it’s just taken a different turn. She hates her dentures, and many of the jokes in the house are around her teeth.

One of our favourites:

“Let’s go outside for a walk mum, it’s a lovely day!” 
“I can’t!” 
“Why not?” 
“I’ve got teeth in my mouth!”

It made perfect sense to her.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the passing of time and about getting older. I think most of my brain likes me better now than it did was I was say ten or twenty years younger. I’m softer, kinder, more awake to life. I’m more grateful for everything – the gratitude begins  first thing in the morning when I am grateful that I can pee in a toilet. That I can pee at all.  Then there’s breakfast – I’m thankful that I don’t (usually) miss my mouth with the fork. And so it goes.

But there’s this one thing about getting older that I haven’t come to terms with. My once brilliant memory that could recount entire long conversations, verbatim (much to the annoyance of Greg, who would regularly and conveniently forget everything he said he would do) …  that once brilliant memory is now, well, not so brilliant.

I just spent four lovely days in Tasmania with Shirin, my childhood playmate and cousin. We shared many hours reminiscing about our childhood escapades. I recalled, for example, The Great Chewing Gum Theft of ’69. When we  ran down to the corner shop, stuffed chewing gum down our knickers, and ran home without paying.

Now, I’ve recounted that episode of my criminal past, in graphic detail, many times. But when I told the story to her children, Shirin ruined the dramatic pauses by correcting me at every comma and full stop: It wasn’t in that town. It wasn’t that kind of shop. We weren’t six years old. It wasn’t even chewing gum.

Almost every shiny facet of that childhood adventure that I’ve remembered so fondly, so accurately, were different in her memory. (In case you’re wondering, my life of crime was averted by the quick action of my older sister who threatened to report our felony to Shirin’s dad, the Chief of Police. Yes, he was actually the Chief of Police. My path to prison pretty much ended right there).

Anyway, my cousin Shirin could have remembered it wrong. But Shirin’s pretty sharp, so I suspect not. Where does this leave me? My long-term memory is dodgy. My short-term memory…?

I regularly forget what I’m heading down that aisle for in the supermarket. I begin sentences and forget the point I was about to make. It takes me about sixteen trips to the kitchen to remember why I was heading there.

If ‘time is the fire in which we burn’, is my memory turning to ashes?

Sometimes it feels like this year has slipped past me like a half-formed thought – there one moment, rife with possibility, gone the next. But I don’t want to forget this year. I don’t want it to join the giant pile of forgotten thoughts in the bottom left hand corner of my brain, the brilliant ideas, the life changing moments, the loving kindness of so many people, the grief, the bittersweet memories of Greg’s last days. Or our first days. Or all the days in between.

I wept about this one night, unable to get past the thought that was haunting me: That I would forget our lives. When I finally did sleep, Greg came to me in a dream. He put his arms around me from behind, young, strong arms that led me to the base of a giant, ancient, Moreton Bay Fig tree. Greg loved those trees. In the dream he carefully searched for a spot that fit our bodies perfectly, then gently led us to sit within its massive roots, his arms still encircling me as the great roots encircled us.

It was a strangely comforting dream, where he made me remember what I had half forgotten in the waking world, the feeling of his arms when they were strong, that he and I were bound together by something other than memory, something ancient and old and beautiful.

Perhaps my worries about my memory don’t really matter. Besides, the interesting, near-criminal aspects of of my childhood are safely stored in my cousin’s brain. Everything else is probably preserved in the memories of younger relatives. As time goes by, maybe I’ll just remember the Truly Important Things.

And when all else fails, there’s always my dreams.

“What am I now that I was then?  
May memory restore again and again
The smallest color of the smallest day.
Time is the school in which we learn,
Time is the fire in which we burn.

 -Delmore Schwartz

Comments 33

    1. Post

      Thank you Lynn. It was our conversation about crucibles that got me thinking about fire and about this poem… which then resulted in this post, so thank YOU 🙂

  1. Lovely thoughts, beautifully expressed. It just made me think about how the mind is not the braim. The brain is only the physical instrument of the mind – Mr. Dunbar says that if the mind is a train, the train station is the brain. If the station is clogged, the train can’t get through, but the train remains. all of our memories, everything we have experienced, are safely stored in our souls for eternity. And anyway, as you say, even if this were not so, you and Greg are connected by more than memories, you have an eternal, binding covenant to unite you that God honors and protects. Much love to you and keep up the beautiful writing 🙂

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      You’re so right, Melissa … of course all these worries are just passing idle fancies really. Thank you for your lovely thoughts, and for taking the time to share them.

  2. OMG Mal, I laughed till I almost peed (and was sooo grateful for a toilet!), then tears flowed at your beautiful dream, so lots of fluid freely flowing!!! This is utterly beautiful and so true. Your writing is filled with gems. I can’t wait for the book:)

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      You are GROSS!!!! That’s quite an image in my brain that I will never forget 🙂 But thank you for the tears and laughter!!

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  3. This was beautiful.
    And no, you are not alone in forgetting, sadly. Just remember the important things, your people in your life.

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      I suppose it happens as we get older! And trauma can affect the memory too… but you are right, the important things are not forgotten. Best not to dwell on it, now I’ve got it off my chest 🙂

  4. gorgeous and evocative as always, the image of you and gug curled up in a fig tree was so vivid!!!!
    dont’ worry when you’re old i’ve got lots of memories stored up for you xx

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      oh yes, you were the main person referred to as a “younger relative” 🙂 You asked to be mentioned in my blog, and so I did !!

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      Kel, as I’ve said before, praise from you can never go astray, and is always profound (to me). Thank you for taking the time.. xx

  5. I keep reading your posts, relating to your thoughts, as do so many others it would seem. The day you posted about Father’s Day and your daughter, I cried a little … my first Father’s Day without my wonderful dad. I’ve followed your journey before and after Greg’s death. I don’t know you (yet) personally but I am finally enrolled to do one of your classes in November..YAY so I will meet you then. I am so touched by your sharing in such a way that I feel we are friends already. Then I think that friends share back and forth, so I am moved to respond and open a conversation in some way. I so look forward to meeting you next month. You are a beautiful and generous and honest woman Malini. Thanks for being you and sharing you with us out here.
    See ya soon!
    Love Gina

    1. Post

      Oh my, Gina, what you wrote is so touching and kind and really REALLY means a lot to me. Writing is just another way to make art, and without the reader, it’s just lonely art that sits in a dark space!! So I write for me, but I also write for you, and it really makes a difference to know that the words have touched your heart.

      I’m so sorry for the loss of your father.

      I look forward to meeting you in November… I’m getting my new shed ready as we speak, to prep the materials that I’ll be using at the workshop!


  6. Sitting here in a little caravan cabin here in Tassie, I thought nothing could be sweeter. Then I read your blog. OMG – my memories of the last few days we’ve been travelling in Tassie, i have never been more sure of writing my diary. Really should do it even when not travelling though, but wonder if I can remember to do that.
    i have also realsied that I need to listen and laugh at hubby’s jokes and ramblings, as, though he doesn’t realsie it, his short term memory is virtually shot (even frget shis pills most days now), but long term memory of old days, even before I was around (and we married when he was 20!), is very strong. My probel is the pessimism and negativity he has always used is reallycoming to the fore and that’s what affects me.
    Anyway, your story about your mum made me laugh and hope he becomes like that, and the dream made me a little jealous as mine has never made a romantic gesture, but for once. However the story still brought tears.
    Keep writing, lovely Mal. so enjoyable

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      Thank you my dear Robin 🙂 I’m sure he will be romantic in other worlds! You’ve been together for an awfully long time and that is romantic in its own way. xox

  7. When i tried to tell my children how badly my memory is fading they just laughed at me and told me….”Mum, You’ve never been any different!” So, sadly, I cannot excuse my absent mindedness and memory loss onto increasing age…tho personally it seems to be getting much worse than normal. The funny thing is that having lived with this state for so long i developed routines to thwart the frantic searches for various ‘lost’ items only to discover that not only were they not lost but that they (the keys) were on the key hook and the specs were in the spec case. This makes it even more embarrassing when i have spent the last twenty minutes searching all the places where they may have been just put down somewhere. Ah well one keeps on trying

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      yes, this seems to be a common problem! Whatever happens it is just part of life’s journey, I guess, and we’ll all deal with it, hopefully when my turn comes, if it does, with the good grace that my mother shows.

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  8. Thanks again for putting a link to this post on the Facebook ‘Magically Mixed Art’ community page as it allowed me to discover your lovely blog. I’m new to the ‘Art Blog’ world and I find your pages a real inspiration.

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  9. Your writing always blows me away. There’s always humour and emotion and poignancy. I’m inclined to think that we remember what we need to remember. 🙂 <3

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  10. Hey Malani

    I always read, although don’t usually comment on your blog. I see the journey you are on and I am seeing some reflections of myself. I love the thought that friends are sharing a similar but different path into upper middle age.

    I started to think about memories too, how when someone passes into the next life we only remember the great things about them. I think that is because we dwelling on the pleasant memories because we miss the wonderful times, not the ugly stuff.

    We are asked not to dwell on the unpleasant things of life, but some times it is so hard. While reading your notes I have committed myself yet again to doing just that. Enjoy whats good and to hell with the rest of it.

    thanks Malini xx

  11. Beautiful piece, dear Mal… You expressed it in such a way that I felt as though I was there in person, listening to grandma say: “Just look at the fire, Malini! It’s so beautiful” and 5 minutes later…. That’s priceless :).
    I’ve definitely got that brain-fog on a number of occasion too, rather scary when I think about it…
    That was very touching to read about your dream. Uncle Greg certainly knows when to come for help, doesn’t he? I wonder whether that’s how they communicate with us…
    (Mostly, a bit cryptic for me, wish i knew how to decode it…).
    Thank you for sharing… and please keep sharing… xx

  12. Poignant post Malini! I feel much empathy with you in this issue observing my own memory lapses and having lost my mother to Alzheimer’s earlier this year + dealing with my dad’s post stroke dementia of late. The beautiful ancient knowing that came to you through Greg is akin to something I’ve experienced – thanks for sharing! I’m with you in the belief that our souls remember the truly important things…xo

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