Arranging the Pieces… Learning to be intentional with our remembrance

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By Tabitha Bozeman

Memory is such a trickster. Sometimes we remember only the bad things, sometimes only the good and sometimes the human brain invents false memories.

Memory, however, is different from remembrance. Oxford Languages’ online dictionary defines “memory” as “the faculty by which the mind stores and remembers information.” The definition of “remembrance” is, “the action of remembering something.”

The difference between the two lies in one word: action.

Memories are often fleeting, brought on by smell, sound or emotion. We can experience a memory without even planning or seeking it out.

Our human biology pairs smell with memory more often and strongly than any other sensory experience. Studies have shown that smell can trigger memories more frequently and more vividly than visuals like photos or videos.

For example, I have my great-grandmother’s antique secretary cabinet. It was at her house when I was very small, then I grew up with it in my grandmother’s home. It was always full of antique books, teacups and trinkets. Today, the cabinet holds many old volumes of poetry and literature, as well as mementos of my own family and friends.

I love to look at the collected items because they remind me of when my babies were little, and of friends who crafted gifts and of travels family members have taken. But anytime I open the glass door and smell the old paper, leather and photos, I am immediately transported back to when I was maybe 10 years old, standing at the foot of my grandmother’s stairs and choosing a teacup for a tea party with my little sister.

Multiple times a year, we have opportunities to intentionally invite, examine and honor memories. When we intentionally take the time to remember – to walk through the steps of remembering – we have taken memory out of the realm of reflex. Memory is often like walking past a window and catching a glimpse of something flitting by. It is there  and we see it, but it is there and gone.

Remembrance is understanding that there is something important on the other side of a door, walking up to the door, turning the handle to open the door and stepping through the doorway.

This element of action sets remembrance apart from memory.

Last week, our family had the opportunity to attend the Patriots Association’s Memorial Day ceremony. It was beautiful and solemn, but also creative and inclusive. Rather than feeling like they were just dragged to something the adults wanted to go to, my girls enjoyed the performance of music, ceremony and even dramatic monologues, and left feeling like they understood more clearly what Memorial Day is about, which is intentionally taking time to remember those who have given their lives in service to our country.

We heard stories about soldiers from places we know, such as Leesburg, Boaz and Gadsden. There was music from a live bagpiper, “Taps” was played, the high school ROTC presented flags, a wreath was placed on the memorial and we learned about actual individuals. The event was much more than a cursory “don’t forget.” Rather, it was an intentional and well-planned act of remembrance that invited all of us in attendance to join in the act of remembrance.

While leaving the Memorial Day service, I began thinking about other ways we intentionally remember and honor those we love and have lost. At our house, we have a family altar of photos, artwork handcrafted by friends and loved ones, and trinkets like jewelry, rocks and even a bird’s nest, all gathered in and around an antique piece of luggage owned by my great-grandmothers. When I walk by this little space and see the dried flowers, mementos and pictures, I am reminded to stop and intentionally remember those who have already left us, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so. I’d love to hear what you do to remember those you have lost, and what triggers special memories for you.

Tabitha Bozeman teaches English at Gadsden State Community College, where she is the editor-in-chief of the Cardinal Arts Journal. The opinions expressed are her own. She may be reached at tabithabozeman@gmail.com.

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