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Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Jar of Remembrance

A heart is like a jar, so I've been told. Something empty that needs to be filled.

All of us have emotional tanks that need refuelling, that's true enough. I've heard this analogy explained in terms of parenting in some of the books I've been reading recently. But as adults, we too have emotional tanks that need filling - so that we can better look after our children, if for nothing else.

You all know what the fuel we need is - love. Love expressed in its many affections. A variety of love languages, if you like, which we respond to, such as quality time with a loved one, words of kindness, acts of affirmation. That kind of thing. We've all done it, I would hope, and all been the recipients of it.

Moments that have filled our tank to the full. Kept us going those few miles more.

Those moments reveal to us that many material things we consider priceless today are in fact worthless. Love is free to be given freely; it's worth more to me than an eight figure win on any lottery.

Possibly because I'm a low maintenance kind of guy, my needs are few. Money has never really mattered to me. Although I've been blessed with more than my fair share of wealth, it's the wealth of my experience that concerns me - and which I have to say I've worked damned hard for. But when it comes to love, I become limitless. There is no bank large enough for the credit it stores. Weaned on true love, even physical hunger can dissipate.

Sloppy sentimentalism, I know, but none the less true for all that. As someone who's also lived on the streets for a short time, I know hunger isn't poetic at all. Still, I thought the older I'd get, the more cynical I'd become. A favourite Breakfast Club quote of mine always was: when you grow up, your heart dies.

But it doesn't of course. Or it doesn't have to. I keep my tank full, and it hasn't let me down yet.

And it's what needs to be happening in our relationships today. And not just at home, but at work and in our communities, to raise the value of love in our various contexts.

I'm not saying we should all start a revolution of love, where we go around with a maddening sunny disposition, hugging and smooching with strangers, so that you'll have others around you think you're do-lally.

But can you imagine how the whole atmosphere of a home or an office would change if each person made an effort to say kind words instead of hurtful or sarcastic words?

Those of you less cynical will know what I mean. You'll have seen the people who have the "look" of their jar being full. They always seem to light up a room. They may have little in terms of material wealth, or a lot, but they are indifferent to it. Their true wealth is kept where the eye cannot see.

Don't underestimate what can be communicated with a look, however. We know looks can kill, but looks of love can replenish depleted fuel tanks in just moments. Making gentle eye-to-eye contact with people can have a healing impact. A look of love can fill and refill empty tanks.

So can a touch of love. A fifteen second embrace or longer can refill an empty tank. There are many ways to fill a tank with a loving touch. Loving embraces, firm handshakes, touching on the shoulder, bear hugs between men, and so many other creative ways to fill a tank with a touch of love.

I'm sure really happy people often refill empty jars by offering a look, a word and touch of love on a regular basis to family and friends. All of us are older children or younger children, we are children of someone, and you can easily fill your parents' tanks just by telling them how much you love them. That's it. Just that. Maybe a hug now and then. Be grateful that you have a parent. There are so many deserving children that have grown up without one or the other, or both.

All children are deserving of parents willing to fill their hearts with the goodness in the world, and to be brought into a world better than we can currently leave them. I can't help but think of all the children who lost parents as result of the Soma mine disaster: it's reported that some 432 children - averaging from the age of 10 - are now without their dads.

And for those of you who have ageing parents, you'll never know what it means to a mother and father to be hugged or touched by their adult child. I'm one of the (very, very) lucky ones; I never suffered from a lack of appropriate affection from my parents. I'm also grateful I had the foresight never to miss an opportunity in later years to tell my father how much he meant to me.

It not only fills the jars of those you love, but it fills yours, too. And there will come a time in all our lives when we shall need to bring out those trinkets we have stored away for a rainy day.

For there will come a time in all our lives when love turns into remembrance.

Love is Remembrance

I'm in a relationship at the moment, and every moment you're not with your loved one is a remembrance of sorts. How harder then, when the object of our affections has used up their natural time allotted, and is no longer with us. Be it a father, a mother, a child, a lover, a good friend. Then our love becomes remembrance.

Loss has many stages, as, too, does our recuperation from it, as it fades and dulls to make way for the memories that will remain. But although grief is a natural process, and a necessary one, I've never had much use for it.

I don't ignore grief; we all need to grieve for a time. We must grieve so that we can let go. But as time goes by if we stick to our grief - as we may rightly want to do - to console ourselves, we may not allow the memories a chance to take hold. And this will mean when we lose that love, we really lose it, even its remembrance.

I prefer to celebrate life instead of moping over death: I honour those who have passed from this world by remembering them with dignity, and by ultimately moving onwards with their memory in my heart.

Celebrating life just seems so right to me. For in time we shall all pass: yes, you, too, will be forgotten as yesterday's light. You, too, will move back into the cycle of things that made you, to refill the hole you once carved out with little thought, to be interred into the timelessness of mystery.

Or something like that.

If there are people trying to stamp something onto this world in the belief they'll never die, then they must know they're leaving a thumbprint on a block of ice during the hottest summer day.

For there will come a day you'll be no more. No matter how powerful or how strong, no matter if your name or your work travels down for a few millennia or more, the only greatest thing that survives is love - or hate - turned into remembrance.

And in our own personal loss, we realise what we often remember are the little things that suddenly matter. These are the things that people will remember about you, too. Not the daily distractions. Or the little annoyances, like the bad weather or how long the latest viral video took to load on your smartphone. Not even in terms of the bigger things. Financial problems possibly. Or how you'll ever make it the big, bad world.

What we tend to remember are the emotions. When love turns to remembrance, none of the "bad" things matter. None of the little distractions matter. Only the emotions. The scents of remembrance. A caring word, or two. A look shared as closely as an embrace. A song sung. A moment shared.

If anything, it's these very moments that serve to remind us of who we are and how special our journey is. It may make you realise how much of those moments have made you grow into who you are.

Sometimes it takes going back to really remember who you are, and why you do what you do today. Every loss, every love destined to remembrance has a purpose, because how we remember our loved ones really reflects on who we are - and often how happy we are. In The Four Loves, a book by C. S. Lewis exploring the nature of love from a Christian and philosophical perspective, he writes that "affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our natural lives".

If today I choose to celebrate life, if today I can kick back every knock down as swiftly as it arrives, it's due to the great affection of parents and grandparents. I can still imagine my father's hand softly caressing my hair as I fall to sleep; I feel as protected now as I did when I was a little boy.

The strength and conviction I have today is my father's, who taught me that the greatest wonders of your life are not in a far off place. They live inside the quiet, sacred jars of the heart.

And that we must never keep them empty.

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