Arranging the Pieces… It is necessary to remember, commemorate and celebrate

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By Tabitha Bozeman

My kids think I’m a little weird because I often stop to check out old cemeteries. Maybe it is odd, but the opportunity to wander through these spaces, reading the crumbling headstones, noting the dates, speaking the names, and spending a few moments thinking about each individual is something I love. Commemoration and remembrance are tightly bound together in ways that are intriguing to me.

Last week, we took a family drive up to Tennessee, and on the way, we stopped at the Franklin Cemetery on U.S. Highway 11. I’ve stopped here many times, and this time only my youngest daughter hopped out with me.

We climbed the steep footpath and walked around for a few minutes reading names and calculating ages. Many of the people were born in the 1800’s, and the memorials were cracking, tilted or weathered beyond reading. One grave marked a woman who shared a name with one of my daughters; another marked a young girl who was around the same age as my girls. We read what their families chose to engrave and paused for a minute to think about them. It was a sobering moment, and a reminder to be grateful for our time together.

After we got back on the road, we stopped at a couple of playgrounds for about five minutes each. It was too cold out for lengthy play, but the girls had fun trying out the swings and old-fashioned merry-go-rounds. It was a good day – one that I wonder if they will remember as they age. I hope so. But, to be sure, I took plenty of photos to show them one day.

Facebook is a tool I appreciate when it comes to commemorating and remembering. A few times a week, old photos, videos and quotes from my children, favorite authors and loved ones pop up, and for a second, I am taken right back to each moment.

The other day, a video of my middle daughter holding her baby sister’s hand in the car and singing to her popped up, and I watched it several times. The girls don’t always remember those moments but love to see them. I think more than anything, they love knowing they were loved and seen and heard.

I’ve always thought I’d prefer to be buried with a tree, offering my body to help something else live on and flourish, than commemorated with a headstone. Reading names and dates in cemeteries often makes me reconsider, though. I tell my children that when we remember someone, talk about them or say their name, they aren’t really gone – their memory lives on as long as we are willing to remember.

Swiping through pictures on my phone in the car last week, I came across several that I took to commemorate two women I have lost in the past couple of years. I hadn’t taken the pictures at the same time; I’d probably taken them nearly a year apart. But suddenly I was looking at pictures of both of them, remembering moments spent together, while simultaneously traveling through two states with my girls who have grown so quickly over the past year. The ways memories and experiences, past and present, wind together in moments like that never cease to sneak up on me.

The present is a patchwork of our memories and commemorations of the past, as well as our hopes and dreams for the future. The three – past, present and future – are tightly entangled, and the poignancy of each depends on the others. Virginia Woolf described it this way: “Memory is the seamstress, and a capricious one at that. Memory runs her needle in and out, up and down, hither and thither.”

It’s like the patterns we see stitched into quilts. So many patterns and colors go into making quilts, but the same thread stitches them all together into one beautiful blanket.

Yes, we are beginning a new journey this year, but we are also bringing memories and experiences with us that bear witness to how far we have come or how far we have to go. We will use these to stitch the coming months into a year to remember.

As we sift through what we will take with us into this year, may we remember, commemorate and celebrate the ways past, present and future are weaving and stitching each of our lives.

Tabitha Bozeman lives in Gadsden with her family and teaches English at Gadsden State Community College, where she is the editor-in-chief of the Cardinal Arts Journal. The opinions expressed in this column are her own. Tabitha may be reached via e-mail at tabithabozeman@gmail.com.

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