As a self-proclaimed nostalgia enthusiast, the greatest mountain I’ve yet to climb is that of letting go. I’m bound by memories and stillborn dreams that I’m convinced possess the capability of being nurtured back to life. But they don’t.
Sure, there’s clichés like “memories make you who you are” and “memories last a lifetime” and, of course, those notorious cookie-cutter Pinterest quotes. But what do memories really do? Why are so many people grasping for any last hope of their resurrection?
Memories give us balance and stability. To let them go means to shatter the perfect moment, the tone of their voice or the part in their hair. The shadow cast over their cheek as they leaned against the window or the inside jokes that you had nearly forgotten. To let them go is to shatter the song that hummed as you sat in silence, tracing ceiling tiles with your eyes or the fit of their fingers in yours. It’s the smell of fog bursting through the car windows at 2 a.m. or the words you held onto as only yours, forever. To let memories go is to shatter every moment that you will never replicate nor replace, letting the broken fragments fall where they may, inevitably too far to mend.
Memories, to whomever we apply them, encapsulate us in a world where things don’t have to change. It’s where people can cling to every secret they’ve ever been told and never fear being forgotten. It’s where perfect moments remain perfect and nothing ever has to tarnish, because memories don’t tarnish. They remain as young and pure as they always were, but we don’t — and that’s the root of it all. That’s the pain of trying to apply perfect memories to our imperfect lives.
The harsh truth is, the version of you that starred in the cinematic masterpiece of a memory that you keep replaying will never again fit the role. These two things that have created what you are desperately trying to resuscitate will never again merge.
Put simply, we change. We grow older and leave people and places behind. We physically part ways with phases of life and the versions of ourselves with whom we associate them, yet we hold onto the intangible. We leave the person, but cling to the laughter, passion or their gaze. We leave the place but cling to the sense of identity found within its walls. We refuse to accept that we are no longer playing an active role in these moments, but granted only the slim liberty of looking back on them.
Maybe that’s the harsh truth that lingers in the file of thoughts that we refuse to open. All you can do is look back on these perfect moments and hope that you hadn’t dreamt them. That somewhere, somehow, you were there in the midst of all its perfection.
We hold onto these irreplaceable, intangible aspects of memories because they bring them to life one last time. We don’t remember the joke but the way their laughter bounced across the room and back again until we were toppled over in the very best pain. We don’t remember where we were going; we remember our rain-soaked hair clinging to our cheeks as we glanced over to validate each other’s shivering laughter.
So maybe that’s the answer. The intangible is how we resuscitate these moments. When we can still recognize their laughter, the smell of their car or heat of their stares, it feels like, for one more moment, that they are no longer a memory and nothing has faded. Could it be the fear of fading that holds us hostage? The fear that once we let these seconds disappear, nothing will ever again be so perfect?
The reality is, it won’t, not in the same way. But maybe that’s the beauty of it. New, unpeeled layers of perfection will find their way to the big screen of your life, and one day you will realize that you hadn’t known you were playing a new role — you were simply living. These moments, like those that made you crumble at the thought of goodbye, will heroically replay in your mind as sheer, irreplaceable perfection once more.
The worst part of a memory is knowing that is all it will ever be. The best part of a memory is knowing you have a thousand more starring roles that are yet to be discovered, and they too will be looked back on as invaluable. Memories are yours, a tear drop of the world from your eyes, that no one could ever understand or replicate.
So yes, they are hard to part with because, for us, they will always be the only thing that never withers, that never lets us down. They stay exactly how they were when we left them; perhaps the only things that never change despite how much we all — inevitably — do.
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