This morning, making sandwiches in the crowded comfort of St. Joseph House, I had a strange moment where I wondered: did any of this really happen?
My mind knew that many things had happened since St. Patrick’s Day 2020, but my body felt like I was still there—still in last year. And how does my mind even know what “last year” is? It was a strange loop to get sucked into. But I felt distinctly like I was pulled back in time. And the reason that this sensation felt so potent was that I was finally also feeling like time is moving forward.
I feel like we are simply back in March of 2020, and instead of moving on to the rest of the year we lived out, we are finally moving out of March of 2020, and into the April, May and summer we never had.
And I realized, in that moment— with the greatest, sinking sadness—that my body will try to forget 2020.
It’s only natural. Our minds have been sort of stuck in this moment of suspension that set in during March 2020, that we expected to be lifted. And it never was. I remember a director I was working with pushing back against that language of being “on pause.” “We’re not ‘on pause,'” she said. Our lives are still pushing ahead. We’re living our lives.
But we are only human. We have routines, we have rituals, we have traditions, and those were all interrupted last year. It only makes sense are minds are still stuck there—in that moment that we are still waiting to move on from. Throughout the entire year, March has felt more present to me than memories that happened a week or a month ago. The spirit of March 2020 has pervaded the whole year.
And now that I am back—in March, on St. Patrick’s Day, on a spring break that feels a little bit like the listless, unorganized days of the first week of lockdown—I can feel my body and mind meet again, unpaused. And now that the loop is closed, now that we are finally back in March, and finally moving out of the lockdown that we thought would end so quickly, I feel like my body is living an easier narrative. It is easier to remember March moving seamlessly into a vaccinated, free summer, because that’s what we already expected it to do.
So there I was, scraping butter onto bread, spinning inside myself, wondering if this year—this year that has been such a gentle, sweet, beautiful gift in so many ways—will be a year I forget.
I am afraid of forgetting.
I write every single day, because I am afraid I will not remember each and every single thing.
I am afraid of forgetting, because I want to have a sense of who I am. And if I do not take an inventory of each and every single thing that has happened to me, every decision I have made, every thought that has flickered through my brain—how will I know who I am? I will be a shadow to myself.
I am afraid of forgetting, because I cannot soak enough joy out of the moments that pass by that are so full of many threads of joy that I cannot hold onto each one tightly enough. There are too many of them, and I cannot grasp them all in the moment. But I can feel them; I know they’re all there. And I don’t want to lose hold of them.
Writing is a wall, warding off forgetting. I write because forgetting—lethe—is our natural end. But to remember—that’s divine.
I am afraid to write this. I am afraid to write these words—”it is quite possible I will forget something unforgettable”—because I do not want them to be true. And writing—that wicked, wonderful enchantment—makes things true. The vague notions floating in our brains, the senses pushing against the peripheries of our consciousness, become true when written. Or at least, become real. Become something we have to confront. Being, as Heidegger would contend, is a sort of non-forgetting—an active work against the forces that cause us to slip into forgetfulness. Being is a act of resistance to the nothingness.
So I am afraid to write into concreteness the strange sadness that overtook me making sandwiches yesterday.
But if the 1918 flu is any sort of guide, clearly we would rather move forward than remember. We want to move from March to March without remembering any of the months in between.
So I want to write this, because I want to note that these forces of forgetfulness have a place even in my own being. Nothingness creeps even into my own heart and mind. I want to write this down, because I want to remember the work of the unremembering that happened once inside of me.
Is this a silly fear? Am I being melodramatic in imagining I would ever forget 2020, the year we’ve all waxed poetic and histrionic about? There are concrete things that have happened that could only have happened in 2020: there are people in my life who I wouldn’t have met or be friends with without lockdown, without grad school, without the changes of this year that seemed unchanging, but did change.
But I don’t know.
I wonder if my friends who had children in the midst of this year did so in order to claim this time. So that their bodies would not forget the changes of this passing year. So that time would be marked on their bodies and the bodies of their child each month. Because we can so easily misremember time in our heads—even, I suppose—in our bodies.
I write this because I did not have a baby this year—a being whose existence is a sign of time passed and time given—but I saw so many beautiful things that I do not want to forget: a dolphin in the ocean off Mountain Desert Island, the sunrise over the Atlantic on Fire Island, the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico, my dear friend marry her best friend, my friend’s laugh as I gave him a smutty out-of-print Auden poem, the boardwalk of Coney Island.
I have had many beers in so many lovely places—City Island, Minneapolis, the New Hampshire-Vermont Border, Maine, Lancaster, Michigan, South Bend, Indiana, Long Island City, Arts and Crafts—with people I love so much, I do not want to forget.
I do not want to forget.