What makes a moment a memory? Some memories are built up over several years, such as a yearly trip to a favorite camping site, and then blend together into an image. Others are a one time only flash yet linger for a lifetime. And may or may not be accurate. I have a distinct memory at age five with my paternal grandfather in my aunt’s garden, sitting on his knee telling stories. In later years my parents insisted that it didn’t happen because my grandfather had a stroke and was unable to speak. Yet it is my one and only clear memory of him. All the others remain fuzzy or based on hearsay.
Something had to have connected between us for me to hold it so thoroughly. Perhaps I was the one chattering away telling the stories, but he must have somehow engaged in the process for it to remain. Every day we have hundreds or thousands of moments that pass through our experiences unheeded. Maybe a memory sticks when, as the character says in the movie Avatar, “I see you.”
In the Doctor Who series version of A Christmas Carol, three people experience Christmas Eve together over a period of several years. It is the only time they are together. One person ages by only one day. Another by a year. Eventually his age catches up to hers and they fall in love—for a brief few evenings. And then he discovers she has only one more time left, so rather than live it together he lets time pass going into his old age living off the memories and becoming more and more hard-hearted with his despair. A beautiful joy filled adventure turned into a life of misery because he could only see it through his pain.
And when finally he opens the time again to see her vibrant expectancy she is able to chide him softly and let her perspective enlighten his. They both ‘see’ each other again and live the remaining moments with a connection that lasts forever.
1. Ask siblings or cousins or friends about a celebration or trip you took together as children or teens. Have them share their one highlight. Does everyone pick the same heartbeat or do a few not even remember going?
2. Repeat the exercise for your character. Then blend both sets of emotional memories into a new scene.