Still lifes

The Twelfth Night of Christmas, wherein I am writing — the Eve of the Epiphany — is another of those evenings when the ghosts walk. The date is my father’s birthday. He would be ninety-five, were he with us still. Through the day I have felt as if he were present, and whether my eyes be open or closed, moments from what I saw of his past recur to my apprehension. Vivid still pictures that were never photographs — appear before me unbidden.

I can’t know other minds except by acts of the projective imagination. I don’t know if others, or how many, have my ability to recall scenes. I mislead by calling them “stills,” for often they include motion, especially characteristic gestures. It is as though I were looking at the living person, as he was, or as she was, with all intervening years cut away. My old feelings towards that person are aroused, even when they are in conflict with my present feelings. I am able to describe the picture, though not with the detail to draw a portrait, or move around the frame.  Nevertheless, the image has power, to reproduce scenes long forgotten. Always, the subject is someone who was close to me, if only in the moment of my recollection. When it is my father, there are many, many scenes, some of which I don’t “remember having remembered” before. I can’t summon such an image at will, however.

My mother described these experiences, and like her I could, with the aid of them, produce checkable facts. She could summon the memories, and had an extraordinary ability to do so. Were she still alive, she could give demonstrations.

Because I live alone, these days, I have more time for drifting thought than most people. Too, I have been quite ill lately; some seasonal flu I assume. Fever explores parts of mind usually unvisited, or so I guess. Beyond this, there are several kinds of idleness, at which I am proficient. And I am nostalgic, by nature, although what I see from the past is seldom accompanied by nostalgic longing. It is like being back, however briefly, in a previous present. It is usually some long-ago, for instance today my father driving a car when I must have been two or three. I have never had a prognostic “epiphany,” as some claim to have had; nor have I dabbled in past lives.

Or perhaps I have, for with eyes closed, towards sleep, I sometimes vividly “see” a face that I have never seen before. It is the face, as if of a living person, but no one I could name; sometimes in rather dated clothing. Or a succession of strange faces pass quickly by.

On the Day of Judgement, by Christian consensus, we will be able to remember everything; simultaneously, I suppose, or anyway outside time. We will not need an accuser, being so perfectly placed to judge ourselves. That will be when we need an advocate, if I may use temporal terms for the timeless. Better that we start preparing now.

But even in this world we proceed with “flashes,” of recollection, to remind us nothing that has happened can be scrubbed, though we might wish. Not scrubbed, at least, by us. Guilt in our own failures and purposeful misdeeds return to haunt us. But this is not the whole of it.

There were times when it seemed I glimpsed paradise, in some earthly moment of incomparable beauty and peace. I imagine that others, perhaps all, have known such things, and they are not deleted, either.