Memory and Desire

April may be the cruelest month, “mixing memory and desire,” as T.S. Eliot puts it, but September gets my prize for runner up. For parents, it begins the back-to-school ritual — crisp new folders, sharpened pencils, markers, haircuts, paste. For Jews, it ushers in the High Holy days, not “holidays” but days of solemn introspection, with intimations of time’s passage. Prayers for the dead are recited; we ask to be inscribed in “The Book of Life.” The days get cooler. We stroll in coats and cast our bread on the rushing waters.

This September felt stranger than most. I saw my English mother-in-law hobbled by the pain of spinal osteoporosis. Once so regally beautiful she was compared to Vivien Leigh, she now alternates between being in agony and dozing in an analgesic haze. I mourned the death, last September, of my old dog, Clover, who had ears like a bat, bulbous brown eyes, and a tendency to snore in repose. Two weeks ago, I waved goodbye as my youngest child ran off to her ivy-covered dorm, never looking back. Which is good. Which is what parents dream will happen when they’ve raised their children to be happy and independent.

Transitions: you stay still and life hustles by in a frightening blur. Wonderful, painful, and the breathtaking core of human existence.

We lust for permanence — something we can never have. Our shifting world taunts us, the past streaming out like ribbon from a spool, extending so far we can hardly see from end to end. But all of this — the shifts, the clinging — is an expression of life at its most precious. Our memories and desires make us grow.

So as another summer recedes into autumn’s chill, let’s feel warmed by the glowing hearth inside. Each external change only strengthens the heat and the light. Real love is a faithful flame that never dies, whatever the season brings. It is the wisest form of desire, and though bittersweet, we are privileged to experience it.