Last weekend, my 87 year old mother shared her memories of the summer that her family drove south across the country from Chicago to Texas to California while her mother looked for work during the Great Depression: the grocery store on stilts, each leg surrounded by buckets of water to keep the ants from climbing into the house; the Model A breaking down on a road devoid of gas stations or human habitation; the beauty of Mission Beach, California when only a few fishermen’s shacks dotted the shore. Increasingly aware of the limited time that remains for her—“memento mori”– she gave me her memories to hold, to preserve, to pass on.
The next day, one of my Facebook friends, a retired minister, posted this evocative poem:
It Is Not the Fact That I Will Die That I Mind
but that no one will love as I did
the oak tree out my boyhood window,
the mother who set herself
so stubbornly against life,
the sister with her serious frown
and her wish for someone at her side,
the father with his dreamy gaze
and his left hand idly buried
in the fur of his dog.
And the dog herself,
that mournful look and huge appetite,
her need for absolute stillness
in the presence of a bird.
I know how each of them looks
when asleep. And I know how it feels
to fall asleep among them.
No one knows that but me,
No one knows how to love the way I do.
By Jim Moore, from Lightning at Dinner
Greywolf Press, 2005
Jim Moore has given us an opening into his unique way of loving. Perhaps we can remember to collect the stories of our loved ones in order to remember their unique ways of loving.
*In Roman times, a General parading through the streets after a victory was followed by his slave uttering the words “memento mori” to remind him that, while victorious in the moment, he could as easily be defeated in the next. In Christian art and literature, “memento mori” was used to remind believers that all earthly pleasures are fleeting, and that one’s focus should be on the Eternal.