The whiff of ocean on the southern breeze and the smell of burning asphalt brought back memories of summers past. It had seemed as though those sweet dreams of summer would last forever: the warmth of a girl’s skin, an old rock ‘n’ roll song, freshly washed button-down shirt, the odor of cigarette smoke in a pool changing room, a fleeting premonition. Then one summer (when had it been?) the dreams had vanished, never to return.
― Haruki Murakami, Hear the Wind Sing
We do NOT know the past in chronological sequence. It may be convenient to lay it out anesthetized on the table with dates pasted on here and there, but what we know we know by ripples and spirals eddying out from us and from our own time.
The four of them stand in the cockpit of the Misdemeanor as they motor from one town to another. They pass their house, which is not theirs any longer. Libby cuts the throttle, and they stall there in front of their sprawling memory. The four of them have come up for the closing; since all of them are owners, they all must be present to sign away this place. They have given most of the land to the Maine Preservation Society, and the house, they have sold to a family who promises not to tear the whole thing down, though they know that is a lie. The oak is yellow and peeks from behind the house. The glossy white windows of the great room look down upon them. It is cold and they all wear their foul-weather gear, bright-yellow slickers, except Gwen, in a red poncho to accommodate the swell of her belly. Libby keeps one hand on the tiller and the other she slips into Tom’s hand. He gives it a squeeze and then puts his arm around her. Danny moves from the stern to stand between Tom and Gwen. They all stand on the starboard side looking at the house. Libby and Tom, then Danny, his hand resting on his brother’s shoulder, and Gwen next to him, her arms crossed over her protruding belly, her hair long and dark hanging down her back. She is no longer a beacon, but a buoy in her poncho, red right returning. The sky is gray and low and promises a choppy ferry ride to the mainland, but there in the safe haven of the harbor it is calm and windless, and the house isn’t empty, but expectant. The flat water, dark green now, lies empty, the float pulled out the month before. Going from town dock to town dock, there is no need for a tender. There is no way for them to come ashore, even if they wanted to. A house like this is not supposed to exist now. It comes from another era. It is a ghost, like the schooners that sail through the thoroughfare every summer. It is an aberration, a figment. It is their great shingled memory.
― Sarah Moriarty, North Haven
We have a few old mouth-to-mouth tales; we exhume from old trunks and boxes and drawers letters without salutation or signature, in which men and women who once lived and breathed are now merely initials or nicknames out of some now incomprehensible affection which sound to us like Sanskrit or Chocktaw; we see dimly people, the people in whose living blood and seed we ourselves lay dormant and waiting, in this shadowy attenuation of time possessing now heroic proportions, performing their acts of simple passion and simple violence, impervious to time and inexplicable.
No Self stands alone. Behind it stretches an immense chain of physical and – as a special class within the whole – mental events, to which it belongs as a reacting member and which it carries on. Through the condition at any moment of its somatic, especially its cerebral system, and through education, and tradition, by word, by writing, by monument, by manners, by a way of life, by a newly shaped environment… by so much that a thousand words would not exhaust it, by all that, I say, the Self is not so much linked with what happened to its ancestors, it is not so much the product, and merely the product, of all that, but rather, in the strictest sense of the word, the SAME THING as all that: the strict, direct continuation of it, just as the Self aged fifty is the continuation of the Self aged forty.
Whatever can be threatened, whatever can be shaken, whatever you fear cannot stand, is destined to crash. Do not go down with the ship. Let that which is destined to become the past slip away. Believe that the real you is that which beckons from the future. If it is a sadder you, it will be a wiser one. And dawn will follow the darkness sooner or later. Rebirth can never come without death.
―Robert McNair Price
Now the wren has gone to roost and the sky is turnin’ gold
And like the sky my soul is also turnin’
Turnin’ from the past, at last and all I’ve left behind
Could it be that I am finally learnin’?
―Ray LaMontagne, God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise, “Old Before My Time”
In the night, I am kept awake by the endless chatter of my inner self. I hear it speak softly of old hurts and fondly of past loves, while its demands and anxieties resound throughout me in multitudes.
I could be calm and composed all day long, but the moment it is dark, my mind riots.
We are continually overflowing toward those who preceded us, toward our origin, and toward those who seemingly come after us. … It is our task to imprint this temporary, perishable earth into ourselves so deeply, so painfully and passionately, that its essence can rise again “invisibly,” inside us. We are the bees of the invisible. We wildly collect the honey of the visible, to store it in the great golden hive of the invisible.
There is a danger, when thinking of the earliest civilized people, of putting too much emphasis on technology. One tends to assume that if you don’t have, at least, a lavatory and perhaps something that will take you a lot faster than your own feet, or a certain number of gadgets in the house, then you must be in some way, a bit backward and defective … the important thing to remember is that technology is not necessarily the same thing as civilization.