On the way to church Sunday, Hadley asked if either of us knew someone who had a photographic memory. Jesse and I both admitted that we’re sure we’ve known people with this sort of memory, though we couldn’t name them.
“I’m reading a book with a girl who has a photographic memory,” Hadley told us as we rounded the off ramp from the Beltway and merged onto Georgia. I am always excited to turn on to Georgia; the street where I used to stop for coffee on the way to work, the road that takes us to Jackie’s, a little sidebar that serves drinks and cute little hamburgers and Jesse I would hang out there after work sometimes. Georgia’s the street we faced as we stood in the OB/GYN’s office listening to our girls’ heartbeats for the first time. It’s a busy street. It’s a good street.
“They call the girl ‘Cam’ because her name is Camden, but also she has a photographic memory so the ‘Cam’ is short for camera. When she needs to remember something, she looks at it and says, ‘Click.'”
Jesse told Hadley he remembers things around images, but he didn’t think his memory is photographic. “Your mom’s memory is episodic,” he added.
“So, what does that mean?” Hadley asked as we turned off Georgia and drove down a block with relatively new town homes. At Christmas time there’s a house on the corner that puts up a small ferris wheel and Snoopy, Santa, and I think Baby Jesus spin slowly around and around. We look for it every year.
I told Hadley that I can remember dates, times, and events around episodes in my life. “It’s not the most useful type of memory,” I explained. “For example, if I’m taking a quiz on, let’s say, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, it is rare I will be able to answer any of the questions. However, I will be able to tell the teacher what I was eating while I studied for the test; whether or not the window to my bedroom was open; what I was wearing, and which songs were playing on the radio while I studied.”
Hadley and Harper were amused by my anecdote, so I added, “The type of memory I seem to have produced solid Cs, and if I had the right teacher, entertainment.” They giggled and we drove the last leg of our trip, past the house with so many cars in its driveway that we’ve been making up stories for almost nine years as to why they’re there (a birthday party, a bar-b-que, a graduation, a wedding).
“The problem with my memory,” I said as we pulled into the church parking lot, “is it’s difficult for me to know what’s important.” Jesse put the car in park and I said, “It all seems important.” It would be a shame to let it all go, I thought, but I didn’t say that out loud.
The first time we visited this church, Jesse and I arrived an hour late. We thought it started at 11, but in the remaining weeks of August, the church was on its summer schedule, and services began at 10. We sat in the lot and peeked in past the trees the church is nestled in. We saw the pastor walk down the aisle, cueing the end of the service. We heard faint notes from the organ. “We could go in for the coffee and cookies,” Jesse suggested.
“No way,” I said. “I hate that part. Besides, how stupid is that going to look?” I asked him. “Hey, we totally missed the service, but pour me some coffee and I want a donut!” We laughed, pulled away and spent the afternoon downtown wondering what in the world we would do with ourselves in this place.
I was ruminating over the problem with my memory as we walked into the service. These days, knowing for sure what it is that’s truly important is hard for me to figure out. Take blogging, for example. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of “Ta-Ta For Now” posts from bloggers. They say the blog has served it’s purpose, that they feel relieved thinking they don’t have to write on it anymore. I can’t say my blog has served its purpose because I don’t know what its purpose is, and thinking about not writing blog posts brings me no relief at all.
I’m teaching more than I was last year. Last week, at a rather low point, I realized I have more preps than I had when I was working full time. I remembered my mid-twenties self trying to manage life with a full time teaching job and almost laughed at her. What was she stressed out about? Teacher has been difficult this year. I dare use the word brutal. I feel totally inadequate and incapable, and I have no solutions except that I’ll do it and I’ll figure it out. I was talking to Jesse about this last week; fantasizing a different life. He walked along with me while I spun my tale and then I stopped and sighed. “If what I am saying happened,” I told him, “then I wouldn’t be able to teach Romeo and Juliet. That’d be so sad!”
“Well, now you know how you feel,” he said.
I’ve said yes to too many things this year, and all of them seem important. I sat down in church with this thought and it felt like I landed with a crash and a thud.
The first hymn we sang was “Fairest Lord Jesus.” Surely I’ve sung this a plethora of times, but the first time I remember singing it is January 24, 1999, eight days after Jesse and I were married, and one day before my first day of teaching. It was our first visit to the South Bend CRC. We sat towards the front on the right hand side of the church. I remember loving the melody because it was familiar and it was beautiful. I love hymns, and I have very little patience for praise music. I remember singing and hoping I would be at home in this place.
I don’t remember any of the words except the part about Jesus shining brighter than the stars that twinkled in the sky. I remember that because the first unit I was to teach had to do with the universe. We would read Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time. Maybe I was planning a solar system project, I don’t remember. I know I was planning on taking my students to the Adler Planetarium; not so much because it was a perfect fit for the unit, but because it was in Chicago and I would take any excuse to go to Chicago. But I was excitedly startled by these words about Jesus and the twinkling stars because the school wanted me to teach “intersections.” That is, we were to find ways where we saw Christ intersecting with what we are learning in school. “Here! Here it is,” I thought. “I can show the students this hymn. We can read it like poetry. I can say, ‘Look, no matter how much you learn, how much you don’t learn, Jesus surrounds us all the time.’ Something like that, anyway. I’ll have to work it out when we get home.”
On Sunday, Jesse and I sang the hymn again. We were on the right hand side of the church, close to the front. This time, we had two kiddos in between us as we sang. Instead of South Bend, Indiana, we were close to the border of Washington DC.
The words hadn’t changed, and I can remember January 24, 1999 with a palpable stir in my stomach where it seems all my memories sit and wait; equally important, waiting for their time for me to figure out why.