Too Many Shadows

If any one faculty of our nature may be called more wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory. There seems something more speakingly incomprehensible in the powers, the failures, the inequalities of memory, than in any other of our intelligences. The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient; at others, so bewildered and so weak; and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond control! We are, to be sure, a miracle every way; but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting do seem peculiarly past finding out.

~ Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

Lately, with past assignments wrapped up and the start of the fall semester still three weeks away, I’ve found some time to pull books off my shelf that have been patiently waiting for me to crack them open and give them a whirl. Yesterday I turned the final page of Kevin Brockmeier’s The Brief History of the Dead, a fable about the end of the world. Imagine a city, a sort of halfway hangout for the dead, populated only by people who remain in urban limbo only so long as someone else is alive who remembers them. Now imagine a virus that wipes out the entire living population save one. Everyone left in the city is connected by the threads of a single person’s memory, some threads that intersect and are woven together, and others that are tangential. There is a beautiful passage toward the end of the book that got me thinking . . .

Hearts stop beating. People put guns to their chest. There was no one and nothing she could ever know well enough to make it stay. It had been one of the chief preoccupations during the last few years of her life: the notion that there was not enough time left for her to really get to know anyone. Most people would say it was ridiculous. She understood that. She was only in her mid-thirties, after all. But whenever she would come into contact with someone new, someone whose stories she didn’t already know by heart, sooner or later that person would start talking about days gone by, and she would get the sad, sickening feeling that too much had already happened to him and it was far too late for her to ever catch up. How could she ever hope to know someone whose entire life up to the present was already a memory? For that matter, how could anyone hope to know her? The way she saw it, the only people she had a prayer of knowing or being known by were the people who had been a part of her life since she was a child, and she hardly even spoke to them anymore. Just her mother and a friend or two from high school, and that was about it. As for everybody else she met – well there were too many shadows behind a person and too little light ahead. That was the problem. And there was no force in the world that would remedy the situation.

Juxtaposed against Brockmeier’s surface notion that a single, meaningless encounter with an individual is enough to grant them a place in the city is the rival and perhaps more poignant idea that no encounter is truly meaningless. As I read that passage, of course I thought about blogging. How I’ve come to rub digital shoulders with so many different people and the minutia of their lives. I don’t know your whole story, the things you’ve lived through that have rattled your world and shaped who you really are. I share things here that are mere glances at my essence. And what is minutia to you, and to me, sometimes comes from deep inside, a place dark and at times impenetrable.

It’s like trying to read a book by starting at the end. You might get away with claiming to have read the book in certain circles. So-and-so? I know them. But in reality you’ve only read the Cliff notes. There are far too many pages left unshared. Explicated. The stuff of a memoir left unwritten.

What is past is prologue, someone once said. How deep do we dare dig . . .

[photo credit]


9 thoughts on “Too Many Shadows

  1. I am hitting posts that are SO timely for me today. There are some things I’m supposed to be pondering, and changing within myself. It’s difficult when you’re trying to avoid looking in the mirror, but everywhere you look… there’s another mirror. [Don’t mean to sound vague and babbly, this is just VERY good for me, personally, to read.] I like your thoughts, and I agree completely.

  2. Isn’t this how all human relationships are, though, not just the ones in cyberspace? How does one truly know another. We all have dark and secret places in our heart.

  3. perhaps the saddest part of dementia/alzheimers is that loss of memory… to not remember the things that made you. the people who inspired you. the ones who broke your heart. those who picked you up when you were broken… we often say it’s ideal to just ‘live in the moment’. but is it?

  4. sometimes i feel like i put to much of myself out there. sometimes i feel like i don’t put enough out there.

    sometimes i feel like i want to read every blog and know every blogger.

    sometimes i have to hide away from all the blogging because it all seems so much…

  5. Hello Tysdaddy I have a question for you that is unrelated to this post but I just have to ask somebody who knows the answer. For your side bar, how do you put up all of that stuff with pictures and links and categories. I am having the worst time figuring it out. I don’t know which widgets to use, how to set it up, or how to make it work. Please help!!!



  6. But it is real. It is a real slice of us. Perhaps it is THE thing, because it is when we are free. You see the colors we paint and the slips that fall through the cracks.

    It is here and we are here. That may be enough.

  7. these things are able to open and and be shown.

  8. As far as the blogging world goes, not only have I only posted the Cliff’s notes of my life, it is only HALF of the Cliff’s notes. I like keeping certain things private, personal. And I like that I only get snippets of other bloggers lives. For me, it makes them all that more interesting.

  9. michael.offworld August 12, 2009 — 2:07 pm

    I’ve been thinking similar things as summer winds down and I realize I don’t miss my daily blog reading and/or writing. I’ve decided not to compare my blog friends to my face-to-face friends. Peaches and plums. I’m grateful for both.

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