There should be a word for the awareness, in moments of joy, that your memory of the moment won’t last.
I’m holding my son. He pumps his chubby legs. He can’t walk yet, but he wants to jump. I throw him in the air. The corners of his mouth stretch wide as he floats. Eight tiny teeth peak through 11-month-old gums. Laughter gurgles from his tiny frame, filling my body with delight.
I won’t remember this.
Luana says Lawrence looks like Calvin when Calvin was Lawrence’s age. Moms must be better at that. The boys look similar in photographs, but I don’t have a photographic memory.
Calvin is 2 ½ now. We don’t even count the months anymore. I don’t have a 9-month-old, 10-month-old, 11-month-old memory of Calvin in my head. When I close my eyes, I mostly see the same 2 ½-year-old Calvin I do when I open them. Did I play with Calvin the same way I’m playing with Lawrence now?
Last fall, my family watched Buddhist monks make a sand mandala. The monks spent weeks laying geometric patterns on the ground with colored grains of sand, tapping the sand through slim funnels to form vibrant fractals.
Then they just swept it up.
They put the sand in an urn. They poured the urn into a river. Have you seen that guy ruin his girlfriend’s food pic? Same energy.
A sand mandala’s beauty is temporary order. It’s the same sand arrayed on the floor, or in the urn, or in the river. But we wouldn’t have driven to see it in the river. We wouldn’t have visited if it was always on the floor. We appreciated it because of its impermanence.
My mother-in-law took a selfie with the mandala. I’m not sure we all left with the same lessons.
The Romans had Memento Mori. When a Roman hero paraded through the streets, his servant would ride in his chariot whispering Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! Memento mori. Look behind you. Remember you are human. Remember your death.
Memento Memoriam isn’t so fatalistic. No need to fall apart. Just recognize that memories are fickle. Memories are fragile. The act of remembering changes our memories, like the wear and tear on a photograph repeatedly pulled from a wallet.
When I close my eyes, I can see Lawrence sailing through the air. But his 11-month-old smile isn’t as vivid as it was. Tomorrow it will fade a little more.
My sons won’t remember this.
In several years, we’ll look at pictures from this time. Our family will huddle together on the couch, and point, and I’ll tell them the stories as best I can. And we’ll smile too.
But for today, if I always hold my camera in two hands I cannot also hold my sons.
There should be a word for the joy of having moments worth remembering, whether or not you do.