There are some mysteries in life that I will never understand. What is the purpose of mosquitoes? How did crazy King Ludwig really die? Why did clear Pepsi ever exist? Where exactly is Sesame Street and can someone please tell those perpetually curious children how to get there?
And probably one of the greatest mysteries of all is how in the world did the musical “Cats” become the third longest running show in Broadway history? (It will soon drop to 4th if the Lion King has anything to say about it.)
If you don’t know the musical Cats you aren’t missing much. Cats is to musicals as fruitcake is to Christmas. Wildly popular but I know of no one who actually likes it. I have no idea how it managed to remain open for the 7,493 shows that it ran. But like every good mystery I have a theory. Two actually. They involve a whole lot of unsuspecting cat lovers and the phrase it’s so bad it’s good.
I suppose there is another theory.
“I remember a time I knew what happiness was, Let the memory live again.”
In the middle of this mediocre at best musical is one of the most loved and most well known songs in Broadway history. The song is called Memory. It is an incredibly beautiful song both melodically and lyrically.
Remembering Memory trigged my own when I used to play the song. Sitting at the piano while mom was cooking dinner, hoping this time I played I would be able to stretch my fingers long enough to nail the bridge. And when I did play it without mistakes my fingers seemed to fly and have a mind of their own as the smell of chicken filled the room.
They light the corners of our minds according to another song.
And what we remember sets the stage for what we know. What we live out. Even who we become.
That is the premise of the latest Pixar movie Inside Out. The story reminded me how powerful our experiences are in shaping our lives. (If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. It marks the return of Pixar. Sorry Cars 2.) The story takes place in the mind of a pre-teen girl who is going through normal changes. The main characters are personified feelings who store memories for her. One type of memory is called a “core” memory. This kind isn’t just for storage, but to help the girl define who she is. And when life changes, her memories change, she changes.
Memories change us. They change what we know.
And I should pause her for a second because to know something means many different things in our limited language.
I can know that 2 plus 2 equals 4.
An exasperated teenager can say “I know” when his mom tells him that in order to do well on that test he needs to study.
We can know something deep down in our souls.
Or my favorite. Spoken by the soon-to-be-returning-to-the-screen Han Solo.
Princess Leia: I love you.
Han Solo: I know.
But I am forgetting where I was.
Now I remember.
I am not just talking about the standard “where did I park my car” memories.
How many of us have had a “and I was never the same” story? It may be cute, “I had moose tracks ice cream and I was never the same.” Or romantic. “He turned to me and flashed me a smile and I was never the same.” Or sad. “I have never really been the same since he left."
They mark transitions in our lives. Events happen to us and these events become memories. What we choose to do with our memories determines our course.
Memories become our north stars.
Except we are the constellation makers.
And that is extremely unnerving and liberating at the same time. We decide which memories stick. And therefore which beliefs stick.
We decide which memories make the long mysterious journey from our heads to our hearts.
It is a choice.
Sometimes we choice the wrong memories. And even worse we let them fester.
If you haven’t seen the movie “Meet the Robinsons” and generally enjoy weirdness I would recommend seeing that one too. There is a villain nicknamed Goob who reeks havoc on our future world, but, he wasn’t born a villain. We learn Goob had a very common traumatic childhood experience. He failed to catch a ball in a baseball game and his team lost. And Goob couldn’t let it go. It took root. He spent years fixating on this one event. It consumed him until he became what this one single memory told him he was. A loser. It did tremendous harm to him and to others.
It is a warning to us.
Memories. We choose.
Sometimes, we get it very wrong.
So think on what is true, noble, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent.
If we do, sometimes we get it gloriously right. We draw on positive memories and we have courage to move forward. Fall in love. Get a new job. Dance in the rain. Allow spring to come to again.
But there is something else that can happen too.
Sometimes, if we are not careful, what we know and believe that was once so sparkly clear loses its luster. We stop listening to our hearts. We bury what we know. Or it simply becomes dulled. Faded. Listless. Stationary. Stunted. Stuck.
And so, we must remember.
It can sound simple but it is not.
Because our memories are not that simple. They full of emotions and energies. People and perspective. They are filtered at best. And horribly distorted at worst.
But they are so necessary and so important.
And not just because they are made up of events, or even the people we hold dear. There is something beyond our experiences and our greatest loves.
As I said before and will say it again, memories shape what we believe. Who we really are. Maybe even why we are here.
Our callings. Dreams. Doubts. Fears. Prayers.
But, I think there is something even more to it than those things.
Something else. Something I have been wrestling with myself.
To let the song continue. Misty water-colored memories of the way we were.
There it is.
It is not just about remembering a song, or an event, or someone we love.
Or even a faded foolish dream.
We remember because a part of us wants to once again be the fool who made the dream.
And I have a hunch that is what people were trying to do when they packed the theater to see Cats. And the reason we keep photographs and keepsakes. Why some get tattoos. Or cry whenever a certain song comes on the radio. Or sigh when they look at their high school yearbook or wedding pictures. It is why we want to jump back in time and talk to our younger selves.
We want to be reminded of who we used to be.
Before the “thing that happened” happened.
Some things have happened in my life in these last few months that will change me.
How they will is yet to be determined. For now I am in the in-between place until the new normal chooses to reveal itself. But one thing I do know is that I will not be the same.
What I decide I take with me, what I remember, is up to me.
And up to all of us.
And remember we must.
If we don’t, we are in danger of losing the way.
But how do we remember?
To remember: To recall. To bring back to awareness.
To bring back to life.
Do whatever it takes.
Books, music, a place, a scent.
Remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy. Remember Remember the 5th of November. I believe in Yesterday. #neverforget Do this in Remembrance of me.
And if those don’t help find people.
People will help. Especially the right ones.
The right ones always help you remember. They point out the way in the dark.
And sometimes it is just doing the unsexy work of believing again. Which, once again, sounds simple, but is not.
It can be really hard and really painful.
Just as we are our own constellation makers we are also our own garbage collectors. To uncover and bring back to life we must first dig up all the crap that was buried on top of it.
But dig we must. Remember we must.
Do whatever it takes to keep the most important things the most important.
Remember. Remember. Remember.
As for me, I went searching for the Memories sheet music. I think it had a picture of a cat on it.
Couldn’t find it.
I will though.
And I will play. Just as I used to.
My fingers have grown since then.
I am going to nail the bridge.