Monday, March 7, 2011

Counting Bears

As I find myself thinking about this new life that is growing inside Hannah, I remember my own childhood, the things that await our young child who isn’t aware of anything outside itself and won’t have lasting memories for a couple years.

There is something about bringing new life into the world that reminds me of my own frailty and mortality. This is the first step of passing the baton to the next generation who will carry it on after I am gone. And part of me, a selfish part perhaps, wants to be remembered.

I know almost nothing about my great-grandparents on my father’s side of the family. Anything older than that is unknown to me. Within just a few generations the entire knowledge of a person can vanish. We may know names, dates, and grave markers, but we don’t know them.

Up until recently, the only way to really connect to people of previous generations was through the writings that were left behind. Some writings are extant, like the life of David, or Augustine, or Winston Churchill. But others are not, and people like Anton Wencl only exist in the memory of my aging grandmother, a family tree diagram, and maybe a sepia photograph.
With the arrival of the internet and blogging, I am able to record much more of my life than previous generations, but I realize that even if these records can stay out on the World Wide Web, they will either be forgotten or lost amidst the ocean of records and data available.
I feel like the Giver from the book by Lois Lowry. I am the keeper of all these memories, and I want to share them with those who will come after me. But my memories are not those of other people, merely my own. And even if I can pass one story to the generations to come, it cannot mean the same to them as it does to me.

Why do I remember doing math in second grade with little yellow plastic bears as counting aids? The memory is vivid in my mind. I remember the short tables, the classmates, the plastic totes, and the pile of little plastic baubles, the feel of them in my fingers, and with joy I experience again the innocence of childhood.

This memory captures the essence of it for me, and deep inside I feel the longing for the time before I realized that people die and are forgotten.

But perhaps I’m more like the Giver than I thought. As time went on the Giver passed on all that he could to the next generation until all he had left was one memory for himself. He had one memory, music, which he tried to talk about and explain, but couldn’t pass on because that was his to cherish. Maybe that’s what the plastic bears are for me.

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