In “The Namesake” by Jhumpa Lahiri there is a scene where Gogol’s father frets that he forgot the camera. He is walking with Gogol. “Try to remember it always, ” he said once Gogol had reached him, leading him slowly back across the breakwater, to where his mother and Sonia stood waiting. “Remember that you and I made this journey together to a place where there was nowhere left to go.”
It’s been five months since my mother passed away. I spend a lot of time trying to remember. I started to write in her final weeks for just that reason. I was afraid in my grief that I would let the memories slip away. My sister would often reminisce about our childhood and say Remember when? and I didn’t recall the event or had only a vague recollection. Sometimes it was the memory of being told of the event. Sometimes it was the story being retold time and again. At first I worried I might have early dementia or maybe I fried too many brain cells in my teenage years. I came to realize that being the youngest I was often too young for some of my sister’s memories to be imprinted on my brain. I also began to realize that I had my own memories and experiences. Some of these events and memories are catalogued in the hundreds of photos I have. Others are forever in my heart and mind.I grew up in the time before selfies. I suffered the generation before digital photography. I existed in the time of fretting over forgetting the camera. One needed first a camera. Then the film had to be fresh. It was necessary to send a complete roll out for processing and the eternal wait for the envelope to arrive in the mail. Color film was a novelty. In short, photography was time consuming and expensive. Best to be saved for that special occasion.
My mother had boxes of photos. I have been going through them and finding tokens of those special occasions. My mother holding me with my family sitting on the couch before my baptism. My graduation from kindergarten. My first communion, confirmation, graduation from 8th grade and high school. My nursing degree ceremony. The story of my life in pictures. My mother has her arm around me in a maternal pose. In my pictures, those of the digital age it is I who has an arm around my mother, in a protective manner. I cherish the pictures as they jog my memory and bring my mother alive again.
I wonder about the memories that aren’t in the box. I think about the times I must remember. I think about the journey where there was nowhere left to go. I wonder what it’s all about, this journey called life. I try to find solace in knowing my mother was okay with the journey’s end. I, like a child, want to scream, I don’t want it to end. So I listen to Krista Tippett talk about spirituality and the meaning of life. I read Einstein and Stephen Hawkings and wonder if there is a mathematical formula that can tell me the theory of everything or at least tell me that there is no true dimension of time and therefore no past and no future but only now and we are all part of the here and now and that there is only space/time. I want to know that the universe is ever expanding. I want to be both a particle and a wave. I want to travel at the speed of light. I want to know if two trains are passing each other with me in one and my mother’s spirit in the other, will she still see me as her child when I wave. I think about my own mortality and that of others that I love. I think the afterlife. Where do we go? What do we become? I remember telling my mother I didn’t want her to die and she said everything will be all right but it’s still not all right.
Sometimes I sit quietly and remind myself of another Indian character, Simit Patel. In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel he quotes John Lennon. Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it is not yet the end.