Musings: Scars, Fragrances, and Memory

Winter_GardenWriting about being fitted for a new brace, and reading and responding to, the comments on that post, seems to have opened a doorway on to the immediacy of the past in the present, and to meaning making in the aftermath of intense experience, particularly illness. This morning I awoke early, before there was any hint of light in the sky. I awoke into a memory. It was not  a “proper” memory; rather, it was more a flood of complex, even contradictory, emotions and sensations. There have been times in my life when such an awakening would have filled me with dread, but this morning I felt curiosity. 

Today features a high, slightly broken overcast with the very occasional glimpse of milky blue sky. Here, at the end of January, there is a thin covering of snow on the ground. At the feeder, the male finches are showing the beginnings of bright red plumage in preparation for their February mating season. As has been true for most of the winter, the temperature is unseasonably warm, and we face another bout of rain.

Our kitchen looks out, through the sun room, into the garden and back yard where the feeder is hung from the crab apple tree. With this as a backdrop I opened a small jar of strawberry/plum jam. Immediately the fragrance of strawberries permeated the kitchen, as though a genie had been freed from the bottle. For a moment it was June! The jam promptly went on a croissant; Also on said croissant were several slices of brie which had melted under the broiler!

These experiences, the overcast, jam, and memory, set me to wondering about the body-self’s capacity for richly nuanced experience. Later, when I sat down to read through my e-mail, there was a blog post from Jamie Dedes, who writes at the Poet By Day. Today’s post was about the transformation of disfigurement into beauty. She wrote about scars, particularly those left by mastectomy, and women who use tattoos to completely alter the look and meaning of those scars.

Suddenly there was yet another layer of complexity in my pondering. Scars, fragrances, and those unbidden, complex memories, are all traces, events and meanings written in and on the body. It is, I imagine, these traces that give shape to our experiences of our bodies and lives. Our responses to these traces reflect our personal struggles to wrestle meaning from mishaps and joys; they are also suggestive of the responses of others to our scars, and our fears and expectations of how others will react. (I have been asked several times how I imagine others will react to my new, very visible, brace.) Thus, our relationship to memory and scar becomes thickly layered and re-membered.

Above me, on the bookshelf, stand the six thick volumes of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, a masterpiece set in motion by a memory of a Madeleine. The writing is a sort of quarrying, exposing the myriad layers and accretions of association attached to a singular, somehow pivotal, event. I wonder: is every moment, every event, pivotal, somehow a singularity of infinite mass and importance? Or do we remember more selectively, creating islands of meaning contextualized by specific moments in time, somehow giving more weight to specific events, allowing them to draw innumerable associations to themselves, thus creating constellations of great depth. Perhaps both are true.



16 thoughts on “Musings: Scars, Fragrances, and Memory

  1. Perhaps both are true. For some reason I find myself in tears reading this. There are inner and outer scars. Your writings about the trauma and PTSD born of polio have had me thinking lately about the traumas of catastrophic and chronic illness, which everyone experiences either directly or by association. And do we have a love (gratitude)-hate relationship with the tools of our survival and mobility? You with your brace and me with my oxygen. May I copy and past this to my blog tomorrow as a follow-up to my post? All links and credit as appropriate. xo

    1. Jamie, thank you. Yes, love-hate! And, yes, trauma that allows survival. All so complex! How do we make art out of all this? No, really. A conundrum that demands an attempt I guess.
      You may always use my work. I trust you to credit me. Please just go ahead and use it. Much warmth, Michael

    2. Jamie, I find myself thinking about your need for oxygen. I do not know how it is to need oxygen as a fundamental aspect of everyday life. I do know the terror that goes with awakening at night gasping for air, and that without my trusty BiPap machine my nights would be very difficult indeed. I now try to use it even for naps. Perhaps there will come a time when I will need a respirator, although right now that does not seem likely. Still, I know that oxygen, even as air, is an ongoing question mark, as well as a much loved tool for survival.

  2. Good to read that you are living with your new brace Michael. Our life experiences, good as less good and our scars made us, who we are today. The most difficult is to accept this, I think. No matter regrets, we can’t change our past, only learn by it.

    1. Irene, there is little to be done regarding the past. Still, events like receiving a new brace carry all this weight.Anyway, I am pleased to have the brace and am slowly learning to live with it. I try to remain curious as to how this will all go.

      1. I’m happy to hear that Michael. By age we learn more slowly, this I do experience too. The past demand that we overcome our fear, forgive others or at least forgive ourselves for letting others hurt us back then. Not for them, but for ourselves.

      2. Yes, Irene, we do slow down, mind and all. Yet, I imagine I learn more deeply and creatively. I hope so anyway. I also find it is often more challenging to forgive myself than to forgive others. Then again, sometimes….

  3. Michael, I loved this post, I had to re-read it a few times because there was something in it that resonated in terms of the way our bodies show us who we are and have been and the way we experience them through our senses.

    1. Thank you, Andrea. I often wonder whether women experience this differently than men. As I age I notice the not so subtle shifts in my body, and the bodies of others, and these changes take on more tenderness. Yet, in the media, there is little concern for aging or pain,and less caring tenderness in the face of the inevitable. Still, we try to be kind and loving towards ourselves and others. That sometimes seems a miracle in itself.

      1. I am pleased to hear this, Andrea. I just returned from PT, where said brace was evaluated and given a “go”. I was reminded that my body does not take change well, and that I should expect to feel the switch to the new brace. It was a good opportunity to be kind, even appreciative, of my body. Our poor bodies go through so much, and yet, we are still here. Amazing, no?

  4. I see memory as a selective thing moment by moment. Depending on mood certain memories seem to alter accordingly. As always heartwarming and thoughtful. Warmest regards.

    1. Leeby Geeby, memory is indeed fragmentary and reconstructed. And yes, mood dependent, as are our feelings about, and interpretations of memory. Still, we build our worlds from these fragments, and do our best to limit others; attempts to fragment them further.

      1. Thank you kindly for your thoughtful response. We don’t catch up much these days. But I always appreciate it we when we do. Warmest regards to you and your kin.

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