Tuesday, April 8, 2014


This morning as I stood by the bed, face raised toward the ceiling, applying drops to the corners of my eyes, a clear visual memory returned--as it does every single time I go through this familiar ritual.  The memory is of an old friend, Derek, enacting the same ritual.  It's very early morning.  He is standing outside in a clearing at the center of a remote retreat facility where we were holding one of the men's weekends at which I was often a member of the staff.  His face is raised to the morning sky, his hand holds the tiny bottle with its balming liquid just a half inch from his eye.  Daylight has not yet quite set in, and there is no one else in sight.  The whole site is silent, holding its breath, as though in anticipation of the day's activity...

I don't know why this memory returns in this way, only that it never fails to do so.  There is only one other circumstance in which a similar memory arises, and that is when I slice an English muffin with a knife before placing the two halves in the toaster.  And every single time I do this, the memory of an old family friend, now long deceased, returns.  Mildred lived in New York, and generously welcomed us to stay in her Upper West Side apartment whenever we traveled there.  A generation older than ourselves, she had lost her husband many years before, and I think she enjoyed the company.

The memory is of Mildred in her kitchen.  She is watching me slice my English muffin with a knife, and helpfully explains that this is not necessary, that the muffin is pre-sliced, and the two halves need only to be eased apart.  I know this, but I still use the knife; it produces a cleaner cut, and if there are loose edges they can easily be trimmed off.  It's a habit I have not unlearned in the many years since Mildred died.  But I am unable, even now, to slice an English muffin without that memory popping into my head.

Of course there are other instances where some action, some event, some sound or smell triggers memories in this way.  I've read my Proust.  But these are the only two, I think, that happen with such reliability, every time I slice a muffin, every time I stand, head raised, to put drops in my eyes.  I have often wondered why my mind should have selected these two odd events, but I have no answer.  There it is.  It happens.  I notice.  I wonder why...

Does it happen to you?

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