family life

Dust in the Wind – The Impermanence of Memories

Places don’t have memories. Memories of places belong to the people who hold those memories. When they forget, or die, the memories which they hold die along with them. This doesn’t have to be a glum realization, but there is something about it which feels a little disappointing.

A story.

After the visit, my uncle and I went to Union Pier, a place where his parents took both he and my father and then their grandchildren during the summers of our childhoods.  My memories are generally pleasant but surprisingly few:I am in Chicago at the moment, my hometown, and upon arriving I stayed with my uncle for we were to go to Michigan to visit Griesha Block, an old family friend who had been struggling with some significant medical issues over the past year and a half or so. I had wanted to visit Griesh because I have always had a warm spot in my heart for him. He feels like family to me, and his “jewishness” has a familiarity about it which conjures enjoyable memories of my grandparents. The visit with Griesh went great and, it’s true that after 7 surgeries, the doctors seem to have done a successfully valiant job of taking him apart and putting him back together again. I was pleasantly surprised at how good he looked.

  • my brother convincing me to try to throw a smoke bomb all the way across under the cottage and starting a small fire underneath which threatened to burn down the structure
  • having a “black cat” firecracker go off in my hand one fourth of July
  • the cries at night of our neighbor friend Glenn as he was beaten by his father
  • the walk down to the beach
  • playing pinball in the entry area of the Lakeview Hotel
  • jumping from the dunes into the sand below
  • sandy oreo cookies
  • collecting ladybugs and letting them crawl on my body
  • grandpa grilling bacon on the bbq
  • grandpa saving the “donut hole” for us kids to eat

That is pretty much the extent of my memories there.

urns with grandparent’s ashes

My uncle and I walked around and he shared some of his memories with me as well. We then went down to the beach on a very blustery day and proceeded to disperse the ashes of his parents that he had been holding for many years.

grandparents in Union Pier

It may seem obvious, but something struck me then about memories. The memories that I have belong to me. My uncle’s memories belong to him. My grandparents’ memories belonged to them, and now that they have passed and their ashes are strewn on the beach there, their memories are gone. Union Pier is probably still a vibrant summering community, with new generations of experiences being had, but the past is gone, and when those that traversed the past are gone, their memories are gone as well.

uncle, father, grandmother, grandfather
at beach in Union Pier

As humans, I think we have a tendency to hold on to our memories as if they are real, as if they have an actual tangible substance to them. Our memories bring us comfort and provide us with an inner sense of security, but they are simply that- memories, thought patterns. Some people I know fill their homes with memorabilia, photos of events and special people in their lives. I imagine that this brings them a consistent sense of comfort and familiarity. I would conjecture that in cases such as these that there is to one degree or another, a discomfort with the not-knowingness of the present.As I’ve discovered for myself over the past few years the only real truth I seem to be able to find is that which is here, right now, in my experience of this present moment. Everything else is merely recollection or speculation.

Our memories may exist in our minds, but the places where they took place do not hold those memories. Places move forward day by day, moment by moment, and as much as we may try to hold on to those places as we remember them, they constantly change.

I have my high school class reunion tonight and just in hanging out with a few of those classmates last night I realized I am much more interested in who people have become than in whatever they may have been back then. Memories, while fun and serving to provide a sense of rootedness, are not now. I seem to prefer the now.  In keeping with this theme of high school reunions, memories, and the scattering of ashes, I post this video and these lyrics from a song popular back in my high school days:

Dust in the Wind, by the band Kansas:

I close my eyes
Only for a moment and the moment’s gone
All my dreams
Pass before my eyes a curiosity

Dust in the wind
All they are is dust in the wind

Same old song
Just a drop of water in an endless sea
All we do
Crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see

Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind

Now don’t hang on
Nothing lasts forever but the Earth and Sky
It slips away
And all your money won’t another minute buy

Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind
Dust in the wind
Everything is dust in the wind
Everything is dust in the wind

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