and a whole door to the past blows open


At unexpected points in life, everyone gets waylaid by the colossal force of recollection. One minute you’re a grown-ass woman, then a whiff of cumin conjures your dad’s curry, and a whole door to the past blows open, ushering in uncanny detail. There are traumatic memories that rise up unbidden and dwarf you where you stand. But there are also memories you dig for: you start with a clear fix on a tiny instant, and pick at every knot until a thin thread comes undone that you can follow back through the mind’s labyrinth to other places. We’ve all interrogated ourselves— It couldn’t have been Christmas because we had shorts on in the snapshot. Such memories start by being figured out, but the useful ones eventually gain enough traction to haul you through the past. Memory is a pinball in a machine— it messily ricochets around between image, idea, fragments of scenes, stories you’ve heard. Then the machine goes tilt and snaps off. But most of the time, we keep memories packed away. I sometimes liken that moment of sudden unpacking to circus clowns pouring out of a miniature car trunk— how did so much fit into such a small space?

~ Mary Karr, The Past’s VigorThe Art of Memoir (HarperCollins. 2015)



  1. So true…and so brilliantly written.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. So much truth here. The other day I happened upon a recipe card that my grandmother had written and bam, just like that, I was a 10-year-old in a little farm kitchen in Central Illinois, looking forward to spending the afternoon with my granny making something delicious and solving the world’s problems in the space of time it takes a buttermilk biscuit to brown…..

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  3. I had a client last week that said to a partner she had dated for 7months “Im disappointed.” That was all it took. To trigger a memory in him that reminded him of a time, that he would never be enough. He broke off the relationship with her immediately. This is exactly how life works and our unbroken healing of a memory, (good ones like Lori’s memory) and bad when we are reminded of a negative experience. “It messily ricochets around between image, idea, fragments of scenes, stories you’ve heard.” Uggh it’s ugly and sad at times…. Great piece David.

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  4. The mind is an amazing storage facility, with limitless capacity. Fascinating how easily those triggers happen. The sense of smell, the strongest of all. ❤️

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  5. Songs do it for me.

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  6. It’s so amazing when this happens, how it takes you right back to every little detail. Love this share David

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  7. Songs for me too Carolann. Although much of it is self-imposed. I like to watch the memories wafting through the current of the moment, impossibly juxtaposed to a world so alien to their long ago time and place. This morning, on SiriusXM’s Sinatra channel, I heard All of Me, a tune forever associated with my mom, who is still alive, but too many miles away for regular visits. When she was in high school, the story goes, she got enough courage up to sing at a school pageant and her song choice? All of Me. I still need to feed off of her courage, daily, if not hourly.

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  8. Dave, a great post…thought provoking and I like your pairing …I will address how Mary Karr’s words impacted me in my first comment and the image in the second…
    I am in the midst of writing the Eulogy for my Mom’s upcoming service…remembering across the vastness has triggered so many memories to revisit…and Mary Karr’s words ring true…memories race over time and run the gauntlet along the spectrum of recall, from Hurt to Joy…and we forgive, we love, we grow and we are enriched by what and who has touched our hearts….

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  9. To me the image, has an eerie void-ness but is far from void. Scorching and awash with searing, dripping melt, revealing a life in which one is still able to breath and barely, endures. Through a shocked expression, the mouth appears as if the lips are trying to form words from the voice within…I am Here, I am Not Invisible, I am Painfully Not, Oblivious. Your actions have made my heart, bleed. Your burning flames of acid words hurled at me, quickly make me retreat, vanishing among silent streams of heart red tears staining as they cascade down me and the palpable living, pulsing pain emanating, is pulled from the circulating air around me and like a tornado’s forming forceful wind, gathers and releases, the velocity hits me, repeatedly raining down on me, splattering, slapping me with the blood red heat of pain….consuming, degrading and destroying me….seems like the person is existing in a personal burning hell…in which there is no escape…Actions and Words can Hurt, another and ones self….Mindfulness should be paramount in our thoughts so our words do not hurt…

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  10. and memories fade and change with time, but always are there, like photographs tucked away in an old forgotten chest .

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