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Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Updated at bottom

Just like a string of memories that pop into your head as you're traveling on a long trip, there is no rhyme or reason to any of this.

During graduate school, I took a series of month-long trips. We would have a base city where we spent at least two weeks that was preceded by a criss-crossing of the country to ten or so small cities and towns. In Spain, our base city was Barcelona. We drank at the same bar mid-day and ate at the same restaurant most nights. The restaurant's door had several panes of glass, serving as windows as well as a figurative coffin for forty or so preserved butterflies.

We found this restaurant listed in a Let's Go Guide that called it vegetarian friendly. I guess vegetarian friendliness is in the eye of the beholder because the menu was entirely comprised of ham dishes. I ordered a plate of pa amb tomaquet as my meal.

The owner was also the waiter and he brought out a dish that was like a bruschetta--chopped tomatoes and bits of garlic on top of grilled bread. I ate it, even though it wasn't what I was expecting. Somehow, we got into a conversation with him and when he asked me what I thought of the meal, I admitted that I couldn't find anything vegetarian on the menu and the pa amb tomaquet wasn't how I made it at home.

The old man started laughing and he said he only made it that way because that was what Americans seemed to want when they ordered pa amb tomaquet. He went back in the kitchen and made me a few random dishes--apparently the vegetarian thing was something you told him and then he scuttled to the back kitchen to whip up something with whatever vegetables he had on hand. After he served us the second round of dinner, he pulled up a chair and we had a long discussion about tomato bread.

I was thinking about the little old man today because I made myself pa amb tomaquet as a precursor to dinner.

This is the way I make it.

I preheat the broiler. I slice open a baguette and drizzle oil on one side. I rub the other side against it to soak up the excess oil. I half a clove of garlic and rub it against the bread.

I put it under the broiler for a minute and 15 seconds--just until the edges start to brown. I take it out and rub half a tomato against the bread, leaving patches of pulp.


You go somewhere for a month and you experience all of these amazing things, but the same stories keep coming back to you later on. From Madrid, I always think about my cold when I ask Josh to shlep down to the basement to replenish the toilet paper supply on the top floor. From Seville, I think about car crashes whenever I am dragging a suitcase behind me. From Barcelona, I think about the little old man from the butterfly restaurant where we ate most nights for two straight weeks.

Why do some unmeaningful things remain in our head forever when other important events that we want to hold onto are lost?

I consider it an honour to remember with someone. There are the small examples of remembering--having Josh say, "remind me to call so-and-so tomorrow." Remembering is about trust--believing the other person can help you. It moves up to birthdays and important occasions. Remembering is about relationships--sharing the intimacy of knowing a special piece of information about the other person. It culminates at remembering someone lost. Remembering is about responsibility--aiding another in carrying the enormous weight of someone's memory.

When someone is old when they die, they had a lifetime to accumulate all the people who will remember them after they're gone. When someone dies before they are born or shortly after birth, it boils down to a few people--maybe only two people. Maybe only one. And then, without that person, the memory--that final string to this world--is gone.

Therefore, remembering is a responsibility.

It could have stopped with me. In Judaism, we only name someone after someone who has died. No one knows their namesake in the traditional sense of knowing.

I talk to the ChickieNob about her namesake all the time--what he liked to eat, what he liked to wear, stories he told me. He was one of my favourite people in the world and I miss him so much. She will pass along these stories during a school project somewhere far in the future. Maybe someone in her class will always remember something she said. Who knows what causes memories to become reoccurring. That classmate will be added to the list of people who are continuing to remember.

My great aunt was going through family photos with me. She came to two men I had never seen before and she mentioned that they died in the camps. That year in school, my class read Night by Elie Wiesel. It was set in the same town in Hungary where my family is from. All of those faceless townspeople who enter the train-car with Elie Wiesel--at least two of them were from my family. I kept going back through the pages, searching for their names, just in case there was a detail to pick up here or there. Why did I care so much? I hadn't even known that they had existed until a few months prior.

I considered writing Elie Wiesel a note about it; asking him if he had known my great-uncles. They must be about the same age. Instead, I sent Elie Wiesel a poem I wrote for a class project on the book.

Tomorrow evening begins Yom HaShoah--Holocaust Remembrance Day. Zachor, remembering, is a huge part of Judaism. Usually, when we translate, we use the English word "remember," but remembering means so much more. It is not only mindfulness; it is action.

Zachor is a word often associated with the Holocaust and its meaning in that context is 100-fold. Remember those who have died so that those tiny strings that still tie them here remain fastened. Back in college, a person used to sit in a cage on Library Mall during Yom HaShoah and read off a list of names of those who died in the camps. The names were read all day and all night without pause. I volunteered one year, taking a shift around two in the morning. There were only two or three people standing outside the cage, but someone else was always there to hear the names.

Remembering is about thinking forward; standing up for others who are being persecuted. Begging history not to repeat itself. Taking a vocal stand against genocide.

Remembering is about gratitude that you live in a different time and place. That you dodged history's bullet.

In our community, we light a figurative candle.

Sometimes we leave it on our sidebar.

This post about Yom HaShoah summarized perfectly the concept of starting points not becoming end points. Of repairing "a badly broken world." I take these words and apply them both enormously to Yom HaShoah, and minutely to all areas of remembrance.

If we are doing our job, we are putting remembering into action by repairing a badly broken world.

If we are doing our job, we are putting remembering into action by repairing--no matter how small in scope our actions seem in the moment--a badly broken heart.


How can we take the candle, though, one step further? Make it a starting point and not the end point? As the post on Yom HaShoah points out, what happens when we use these forwards as the starting point without continuing to the next step and the next step and the next step in repairing the world (or, in this community, repairing a heart). Is the scope too large? Are these small moments all we can do when the need for repairs is so enormous? What can we do beyond the initial candle on the blog? The later loss remembrance note on the Lost & Found. The comments we leave on future posts about the loss?


Jess said...

Memories are so strange. You're seems like you never remember the things you want to, and intead have bad memories or random ones even.

Your post made me think of (and miss) Mary Ellen. I think of her and the triplets often and wonder and worry.

Emily said...

Thanks for such a beautiful post. I find that when I conjur up a specific vivid memory, I can remember every single sight / smell / touch / feel of that memory. Whether it's happy or sad, I just soak in that moment and remember exactly what that moment in time meant for me.

luna said...

a truly gorgeous post. thank you. ~luna

Kim said...

Love this post! As I get older there are so many things I wished that I had talked to and asked my grandmother about. I find myself asking my mom more and more to repeat stories about herself and about her mom. I don't want to forget, I want to pass them onto my kids. I want that string that connects them to their past to get longer and longer. Sometimes I remember to write things down, I wish I always did! I have gotten in the habit of e-mailing questions to my mom - then I can print things out in her words!

Rebecca said...

What a beautiful post, Mel :) Particularly poignant for me as we're all struggling to remember my dad before he was ill, to remember the person he was and not the person he became.

Vacant Uterus said...

I will help you remember. I'll have a candle burning on my mantle for you and all of yours that have been lost but not forgotten. I'll try to figure out how to put a candle in my sidebar, too.


loribeth said...

What a beautiful post, Mel, thank you.

Fertilized said...

What a beautiful spin on rememberance. I have actually never thgought of it in such a way. Thank you for reminding me!

Jendeis said...

Mel, just wanted to thank you for this beautiful and eloquent post. I am constantly awed by (and envious of) your gift in writing.

Malloryn said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on remembrance in such a beautiful way. It made me think of quirky little stories from some of the journeys I've made.

Ellen K. said...

I will light a candle today, too.

Thanks for a beautiful post.

kate said...

Oh, dear. I'm afraid I tried to comment, and as I was cresting 1000 words, I figured that my response to this post was best placed on my own blog. Check in later in the day to read some of my response. Just rest assured that I am sitting here at my desk, embarrasing the crap out of myself with tears streaming down my face. A very finely written post on the nature of memory. Thank you.

jp said...

Beautiful post...wonderful details.
Thank you.

Susan said...

As I got older I began to understand the importance of remembering. Your post was very touching and beautiful. I will light a candle this evening too.

Piccinigirl said...

Beautiful post.
I have been remembering a lot lately, reminding myself of things. Thank you for helping me know what it really means to do that, who it involves and how it helps us look forward.

Anonymous said...

This inspired my own post as well. I really appreciate it... It was nice to own those memories again.

Meghan said...

Beautiful post, I wish my comment could be as eloquent. I always wonder who else remembers me or a family member, the ripple effects of who we touch. Because there are certainly people who have touched me or a family member that I remember...and they probably have no idea. We're so interconnected yet removed at the same time.

Searching said...

I remember, alot. My memory of numbers, things I need for work or school, that sort of thing, those fly out of my brain quickly. But people who have touched my life I think of often. Especially all the babies and the mommas here who have loved and lost. I remember the little ones from work, just in case I am one of a very few to hold them in my heart. Critters, too. Sometimes I just cry with the remembering, but sometimes I am able to smile and laugh. Memories are such crazy little creatures.

I also think of ME often and wonder how she is doing.

sara said...

What a beautiful and thought provoking post. It is funny how some things we have vivid memories of, and others almost none. Sometimes this seems like it happens for no apparent reason. When we were in France for several weeks, I remember certain things over and over again, and others are omitted. The same goes for family members who have passed. Thanks for sharing with us.

Julia said...

I ran my college's Yom Hashoa program for several years. Some years all of it, some years the names.

This year all we did was light the yellow candle. I feel like I was too overwhelmed by the here and now to do anything more. But thank you for this post.

Bea said...

This is a great post. I don't know that I can answer your question about remembering. I see it happening - people mention ME and the triplets; people wear special shirts on the March of Dimes walk; the stories exist out there on the internet, linked to, there to be read. Is it enough? What is enough?

There was a rememberence day last year (what date was it?) where candles were lit for the babes who never grew up. Perhaps we ought to go to more effort to identify them specifically on that day when it rolls around again. Kind of like the recital in the cage. I love that idea.

Beautiful post, by the way.


momofonefornow said...

That post was eloquent. It left me breathless.

I am new to your blog. I just added you to my google reader. I can't wait to wade through the archives and for your new posts.

That was so profound. I am floored!