Memory Beats Reality


Perusing the book shelves in the hotel lobby, I snatched up a favorite I had read many years ago. This will be a delightful reread, I thought, with visions of snuggling under a warm blanket on the sofa and reading to the wee hours of the morning. I’d pretend I’d time traveled to my youth, but now I wouldn’t need to hide under the covers with a flashlight lest Mom notice and take the book away.

Alas, it was not to be. What I remembered as a delightful romantic romp was in fact a rather poorly written story “telling” rather than “showing.” I stopped reading before I got to the end of the first chapter preferring to live with the warm fun memories of the book than the reality that I faced now.

The disappointment with the book got me thinking. How many of our past experiences are better not relived?

For one, a visit back to my childhood home—shattering.  Our house and farmyard, diminished by adult eyes brought me to tears. Where was the enormous barn? It couldn’t be that little lopsided building over there could it? The house was worse—a tiny low ceiling three room structure rotting from disuse, the pattern on the wallpaper I so loved as a child faded to mere shadows.

Travelling is another. My first return trip to Mali was a delight. Three years after coming back to Canada, I revisited the house where I had lived, spent time with the students at the school where I had taught, browsed in the market, lunched with the nuns…. All was well.

Another trip to Mali twenty years later brought heartache. Inundated with refugees from the drought, the city was unrecognizable. Wide boulevards, now populated with rude shelters, reduced to narrow paths. The broad steps to the post office, now crowded with make-shift dwellings, had to be pointed out to me. And most of the people I had known were nowhere to be found.

Now, when I think of Mali and Bamako, my memories are tarnished by that later visit. I push them to the back of my mind and linger over the cherished ones from my years living there.

Visiting my school after retirement was another mistake. The start of a new year carries its own excitement unique to the people involved. I was no longer a player, and while I was welcomed warmly and showered with good wishes, all I felt after the visit was deep depression.

I’ve never been attracted to the idea of reunions and have never attended one. I think, now, that my instinctive rejection of reunions stems from this subconscious knowledge that memories are best left as they are—to be savored, and, over the years, to develop a hazy halo that we can bask in to our heart’s content.




4 comments on “Memory Beats Reality

  1. The saying, “You can’t go home again” often rings true. I do attend our family reunions though every 5 years, and it is as if the years haven’t passed. It is always a very good time. As for books, some can be read over and over, like Anne of Green Gables, but others need to be left back where we left them. I find the same with movies. A second viewing can be so disappointing. I guess we change and move on too.

    • Sounds like you have wonderful family get-togethers. As for books, there are the rare few that I reread, but I pretty much never watch a movie over again, and I hate re-runs on TV.

  2. This is why I could never understand people reading a book twice. Also, I feel I have only so many days on this earth and there are too many books waiting for me to read them for the first time. I can’t spend time going back.
    But on the reunion idea, I once felt the same as you did and so never went to the high school reunions. But this past year I did go at last and it was really good to see people I knew from long ago. It wasn’t a rehashing of old times, but rather an updating on what they were all doing now. I had a great time.

    • Agree that there are too many books out there waiting to be read. I can count on one hand the number of books I’ve reread mostly because the writing was so beautiful and I wanted to savor it all over again.

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