Sunday, December 27, 2009

Big Fish

I love the movie "Big Fish." If you haven't seen it, a man recounts the stories that his dying father has told him of his life and the people he's met. The son doesn’t believe any if it, but at the end, when the father dies, all of the characters from his stories (albeit a more reality-based version thereof) gather to remember him. They did exist; pieces of his different lives. They all come together in the end and authenticate him, his stories, his history, his life.

I've been feeling rather nostalgic lately, and felt drawn to contacting several people from my past: old friends, old boyfriends, people who have made a significant impact in my life; people whose relationships with me made up all of my different lives; people whom I missed; people whom I felt I owed an apology, or wanted peace with; people whom I loved.

For a few days after making some of these contacts, I was overly emotional. Every email or call with someone made me cry. Every picture I looked at, every memory that surfaced saddened me deeply. I wanted to figure out why I was so drawn to reconnecting with my past, and why it was so sad to me... and why I was still so drawn to reconnecting with my past, even though it was so sad to me. I concluded that there are two reasons I felt this need. The first one came to me rather quickly: I'm being robbed of my future, so I'm holding on to my past. I guess it's a sort of defense mechanism, or reflex or something. The desire to live is ingrained in us. Knowing that it is going to be taken away, I grasp for what makes me real: my history. While I can understand my own desire to want to hold onto life in any way I can, I also know that it won’t work. I cannot spend the rest of the time I have holding on to the past, hoping that doing so will keep me alive... I still have more living to do, and I have a whole lot of it to do in a little bit of time. I don't have time to waste. I’ve pondered our “earthly time” a lot lately. What is my time here for? What is my purpose here? Do we all even have a specific purpose? Have I contributed to the world in any way? If nothing else, there is one thing I’ve accomplished, that I know affects the world positively. I helped bring to life one of the most beautiful and amazing women I know. What an honor.

The second reason for my trip down memory lane came to me the other day when I was talking with Joss about the time to come when I am no longer here, and I said to her “don’t forget me.” Of course I know she will never forget me, but my feeling that I needed to say this to her made me realize what really scares and saddens me. The same fear that freaked me out while filling the time capsule: disappearing. Sometimes I try to picture what the world will be like when I am no longer around. People going about their days, proceeding with their lives – everything the same except without me. I know that some people will never forget me, but the idea of being just a memory is disturbing nonetheless. No matter how vividly I am remembered, the fact remains that I will go from being a real, living person, to nothing more than memories. Memories fade. Will I fade the same way? Had I begun fading already, since to the people in my past, I was already just a memory?

When I started finding people I went to High School with, I would always ask if they remembered me. All did, and for some reason it surprised me every time. Perhaps because I, myself, have forgotten the person I was then. In finding these people, I’m refreshing memories of me so that they may remain vivid a bit longer. I’m gathering the characters from my life, like the characters in Big Fish gathered, proving the storyteller’s reality. I’m hoping that my existence affected something. I’m striving to leave proof that I was here… that I was real. I’m carving my name in the Tree Of Life.

It brought up lots of old memories, revisiting my past, and left me with such a deep yearning to go back to those times, that I felt misplaced for a little while. I remembered a story my Mom once told me about a girl who grew up near a big mountain. She loved this mountain. She’d climb it all the time, and would have picnics on the top. She planted flowers on the mountain. She went there to think, to laugh, and to cry. It was a very special place for her. At one point, she moved away. For years and years she thought of this mountain, and how she wanted nothing more than to go back there. One day she finally did go back but when she got there, all she found was a simple, bare little hill. Nostalgia tends to warp our memories. Romanticize them. Much like the characters in the stories of Big Fish were exaggerated: Siamese twins were really just normal twins; the giant was actually just a very large man; and the witch was, in reality, just a woman. Mom told me the story of the mountain one day when I was feeling homesick for Rhode Island. All of my family had since moved away, and there was really nothing significant left there for me, except the memories. Had I gone back, I would have found just a bare, little hill. She’d remind me of this lesson from time to time by presenting, where appropriate, a line I have heard a hundred times: “You can’t go back to the mountain.”

I’ve moved on from seeking my mountain. I’ve renewed some special friendships, and let go of some that were lost and should have been let go of a while ago. I’ve touched what were previously just memories, and confirmed their existence – and my own. I’ve put back my romanticized versions of my life stories, because I like them better that way. Then I spent some time remembering everyone I’ve known who has died, so they won’t disappear.


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