They sneak up on us, take us totally by surprise. I am quietly doing my work in my studio and the vague sound from my husband's stereo suddenly awakens a flood of past memories and I am lost. The attack lasts a minute or so, but for awhile, I was back a very long time ago in Mexico city, after a dinner, late at night, listening to a band of Mariachis on Plaza Garibaldi as if they were in front of me, dressed in their black and silver suits, playing. Little boys sell little bouquets of flowers that remind me of my mother who is back in Haiti and my husband graciously buys the flowers for me.
What triggers our memories out of nowhere? How can we say: "I remember?" It is like having a double who can recall anything if enough is there to stimulate him or her. It works sometimes without effort and sometimes we struggle to remember but achieve nothing. I know that men in white study our brain and record the effect of different impulses on our mind. It is done in sterile rooms (I imagine) and is given many efficient and serious names. Names that leave me cold. After all, I am not a scientist.
To me, there is something wild, diabolical and magical about my memories; the easy flow of recall that leaves me awed and amazed.
My memories aren't selective, they touch on the miraculous and on the sad or bad. I still remember the voice of my school director who told me: "Even Micheline Brierre!" after gathering a bunch of us, little girls then. Standing in front of her, I was so ashamed with her three words but her tone of voice was shattering! What had I done? With some other kids in my class, I had helped to put salt at the base of a tree, in the back of the school, in the hope of killing it. Why would I want to kill any tree? Trees are precious. I was just following the voice of one of our peers and of course, the little salt we put at the base of the trunk did nothing to the tree; but my double laughs at me while the memory emerges and swamps me with shame.
I see memories as a long, infinite string with little pouches attached to it, floating wildly in the wind. A sound, a voice, a smell, music or a touch will open one of the pouches and we are back to another time - dreaming, reliving what once was.
Yet there are some things we would rather not remember. But they hunt us down and like a snake slowly coil their way around our mind and demand that we learn from them to put them finally in repose in some imaginary coffin of our dream. They are like a force from the past battling us until we see the hidden lesson they sometimes bring. Being able to learn from our recall is one of the great aptitudes we carry through life. It frees us to reset our will and let it bring a better future for us.
How do memories that come from days past influence our future? I tell myself that they set a course for us but we can correct their influence and with that will move us to a different day. Our actions are in the now, but the now becomes tomorrow, and hope is there forever present. We can, our lesson learned, let such memories go innocently down the trail that we bury in the past.
I still remember a dress my mother made me when I was barely an adolescent. It was called at the time a princess dress. Sewing machines then did not do the fancy zigzags they do now. A straight stitch was plenty. The dress had enough panels to create a whirlwind and bellow under the Caribbean air. She handed it to me asking me to finish the inner seams by hand and only then, when finished, could I wear it at last.
This was a time when many of my projects stayed unfinished in my drawers, cabinets and my mind and doing slip stitches on the dress seemed to me as a task of patience unlimited. Yet, I wanted to wear the dress, it was new, tantalizing, waiting for me to look so special in my princess dress. So I threaded my needle and assiduously did the stitching, seam by seam. As I did, I also learned. My incomplete little projects started to call me and I learned to finish what I had started.
In the now, I look at what I do and I complete my work.
It is not difficult; I recall the princess dress and imbued with memories, I want to walk out and dance on my deck between birds and squirrels while letting the panels bellow in the wind.
Copyright Micheline Brierre 2010