Sunday, April 1, 2018

Locks and the River of Memory and Meaning

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a river cruise that Mark and I took on the Main River across southern Germany on our last big trip together in the fall of 2015. 

Specifically, I’ve been thinking about all the locks our ship had to pass through on its way from Nuremberg to the Rhine River. The purpose of the locks was to allow our ship to navigate around or beside otherwise impassable parts of the river. Mark was fascinated by the mechanics of it all. I didn’t/don’t pretend to understand how and why it all works, but the image of being in those locks, while seeing the river flow by beyond, has remained in my memory.

Memory. I’ve written before about how I have struggled over the years to remember my childhood. Because of abuse, dysfunction and divorce in my family of origin (as well as the trauma associated with my adolescent discovery that I'm gay), memories have come only reluctantly and spottily. So many times, I have felt somewhat like an archeologist conducting a dig, uncovering shards of pottery and other items, examining them, trying to make sense of them and construct a narrative about a bygone time—only I was examining memories, trying to understand my childhood and youth.

In examining my past, I tended, ever since I began these explorations over 20 years ago, to focus on periods of time, associating memories with the five houses I lived in from my earliest childhood until graduating from high school. I also focused on grades in school, and as memories came, I would categorize them by houses and grades.

Recently, however, I had a revelation of sorts. I realized that I had been treating my past like a series of locks. There was the lock of my first house in Salem, Illinois; the lock of the second house in another town; the lock of second grade; the lock of fifth grade; and so forth, each period of time looked at discretely as if there was no connection to the previous lock.

So, as I looked at my childhood and youth, my memory flowed from one lock to another; but by focusing on these locks, I recently realized, I was ignoring the river of memory that was flowing beyond the locks. I was missing the bigger picture and the perspective, connections and understanding that could come by looking at the larger flow of my early life. I further realized that, like in the case of the Main River in southern Germany, the locks of my memory were (likely) built to bypass otherwise unnavigable parts of my childhood.

This has been a timely realization. The past has always been present in my life and remains so today. Because there were not only “locks” in my childhood, but throughout my life. I left my little hometown in southern Illinois when I graduated from high school and went away to university. I then left all the friends I made in university to move to Ohio and work for my dad upon graduation. Then I left there to join the Mormon Church and go on a mission. Then I married and moved to Canada. Then ten years later, I left Canada to move to Utah. Then 15 years later, I came out, divorced and left behind the Mormon Church. Then I met Mark and experienced 4-1/2 years of bliss with him before he died. Then I moved on into a future that is a daily work in progress.

The river of life moves constantly forward, but so much of my life has seemed like a series of locks, and I have struggled at times to make sense of it all. But recent events and realizations have helped me gain perspective, to help me realize that the river is still there, beyond the locks that were created over the years; and I believe that the river holds meaning and connection to the past, the present and the future.

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