The Patchwork Quilt
by Christine Organ
"The two offices of memory are collection and distribution." –Samuel Johnson
Memory is like a patchwork quilt, a disjointed collection of thoughts and feelings and emotions stitched together with delicate threads. Fabric swatches in rich plaids are nestled next to crimson velvet squares and separated by strips of pastel floral fabrics and rustic tweeds. Just like any well-worn, much-loved patchwork quilt, memories change over time. Some sections maintain their vibrant hue, some yield and fade, and others change color entirely.
Some of our memories are soft and plush, warming us on a cold winter night. My own quilt is filled with lavish memory snippets of love and affection: family vacations, playing cards with my grandma, boat rides with my grandpa, meeting and falling in love with my husband, the moment I discovered I was pregnant with my first son, and the birth of my second son. Calling up these memories caresses my soul and calms my feverish nerves.
Memories can also be blissfully ignorant and forgetful. Over time a harsh wool swatch is smoothed into a fuzzy little square in the memory quilt. For instance, many parents wistfully reminisce about the first few months with a newborn in the house, and the sleepless nights and hormone-fueled delirium is upstaged by memories of first smiles, quiet coos, and cuddling with squishy baby limbs. As I look back on the first few months of my firstborn’s life, I can almost – just almost – forget his particularly difficult labor and delivery. The darkness that settled over my life those first few months as I dealt with post-partum depression is hidden among the happy memories of his cheerful smile, social demeanor, and active personality. The rough edges are softened in time and the mind filters out the harsh memories so that we can make room for the uplifting memories.
But, if we are not careful, memories can also be vengeful and angry. If the quilt is not tended, tiny holes can rip and tear until eventually the stuffing is oozing out beyond repair. If we are not careful, our grudges and resentments can darken the reality of a situation so that we can only see flaws and shortcomings, mistakes and imperfections.
Memories can be incredibly useful way to allow Grace to enter our lives, provided that we pay attention to how we are recalling our memories and how we are distributing our memories. Are we collecting memories in a positive and beneficial way? Or are we harboring memories in a self-serving way that deludes our recollection of a situation?
Are we examining our memories with a keen eye so that we are able to learn and grow? Or are we allowing rose-colored nostalgia to cloud our enjoyment of the present and disrupt our anticipation of the future?
Like Samuel Johnson said, there are two offices of memory – collection and distribution. It is up to us to collect memories generously and distribute our memories wisely within ourselves and to those around us. If we are able to do so, our memories can become immortal morsels of Grace to sustain us, inspire us, comfort us, and shine a light as we navigate our way through this wild and crazy world.
Christine Organ is a wife, mother, writer, and Unitarian Universalist who lives in the Chicago area. She can be found online at Random Reflectionz.