Issue 98 / March - April 2014
The Only Memory
How could this piece of information solve my problems? This little sentence cannot really answer all of life's possible dilemmas, can it?
I am walking home on the unusually dark street. I am only used to seeing it in the brightness of day, when the flowers are in stark contrast to the shortly trimmed grass and the voices of other kids fill the air with their sweet, bell-like melody. It has been a long, long day at my best friend's house. We have played hide and seek for hours, we have painted suns with her new water colors. But it is late now and my big brown eyes are almost closing. As always, I do not want to admit that I am tired. It seems shameful and boring. Only old people get tired! To the bouncy, curious 6 year-old that I am, sleep is the ultimate waste of time, especially when constant adventure is waiting around every corner.
It would have probably seemed frightening to see the neighborhood so empty, so suspiciously silent if I had to walk home by myself. My excessively wild imagination would have made me shudder at the thought of all the horrific monsters, dragons, witches and ghosts whispering and quietly planning their evil moves in the darkness. But I am not alone. A strong, tall man is walking next to me, holding my little hand. Dad. He is there to guide me through the summer evening. His presence makes the place seem warm and inviting. The dim lights coming out of the windows of the houses around me appear to soften the atmosphere, making the moment almost dream-like.
I suddenly remember a very important question I wanted to ask him. I have been wondering about it all afternoon but the logic of it seemed to be beyond me. It is undoubtedly an adult matter. I turn up to gaze at his friendly round face and ask with urgency:
"Dad, which side is better, the left or the right? I can't decide which one is my favorite."
He smiles from under his black moustache and wisely answers, his green eyes sparkling:
"The left of course. It's where your heart is."
Adults have it so easy. They simply have all the answers. Of course the left side is the best one! I nod, completely agreeing and feeling overwhelmed with my father's undeniable expertise at life. I am also a bit disappointed that I did not reach the conclusion myself. I wish I was like him.
From that day on, I had no doubts. Every time I had to choose between turning left or right at an unfamiliar cross roads, I chose left. Every time my best friend wanted me to choose in which of her two clenched fists she had hidden a candy, I chose the left one. I never doubted my dad's conclusion for a second. Choices, choices... who said they were so difficult?
My father died shortly after that walk. Nobody warned me that my source of endless adult wisdom would abandon me and my beautiful mother so abruptly. I did not manage to ask him even one hundredth of my questions. I could not ask him why boys were so annoying at kindergarten or why my first grade teacher had such an enormous belly. I knew he would have had the explanation. He would have dispersed the fog of my confusion in an instant.
Later, my questions changed but I still wished my dad were there to help me with the riddles. Why were boys even more annoying as I got older? How could I heal my broken heart? The more I grew, the harder the questions became. Why did he have to leave so early? Would he be proud of me? Was I making the right choices? Did I choose the right university? What would he think of my boyfriend? I had the feeling he might not have had all the answers. I was starting to realize that nobody does. But I wanted to ask him all the same.
I had so many questions but so few memories. The more time passed, the less I remembered. I remembered he was so fun, that he would play with me and a balloon in the living room until it was time to go to bed (and even a little longer when my mom wasn't watching). He liked to fish; it was his passion. He had many friends, and our apartment was always full of smiling, warm people.
With time, however, I started forgetting these memories. I forgot the important details - I no longer remembered his smell, his voice. The most difficult was that I did not have any recollection of his words to me. I craved to know his opinion, to have his advice, to feel him guiding me once again. But the only real memory I had of his wisdom was the short little answer to my silly childish question. The left side was better because my heart was there.
How could this piece of information solve my problems? This little sentence couldn't really answer all of life's possible dilemmas, could it? It couldn't tell me how my father first knew he was in love with my mom. I will never know that. It could't tell me if he would approve of me studying abroad. Had I wasted my time with my dad on a meaningless, pathetic little discussion ...
Forgetful creatures we humans are. If we live abroad long enough we could forget our own language, they say. I've also heard that, once vested with too much power, some people forget where they came from. This is a dangerous kind of amnesia. It can, of course, be a good thing - they say forgetting helps you heal faster, helps you deal with loss and pain. This, they say, is the good kind of forgetfulness. In my case, loss and pain did not disappear with time. Only memories.
This stupid human nature tricked me - I suffered the worst kind of amnesia - I was forgetting my father. It felt like I was being unfairly robbed of the little I had left from him. As a teenager, I tried to rebel against this stupid memory loss. I wanted to simply turn off all my thoughts about him, I excluded him from all conversations; I would not say the word 'dad' - I just skipped it. But it didn't help. Late at night, I kept looking at pictures of him from our summer vacations together, hoping a memory would jump at me and help me get to know him better. But it never did.
The only real memory I had left was the silly conversation in the evening street. It was perhaps quite illogical of me but with time, I grew to believe that my precious recollection could, in fact, guide me through life. I chose to make the best of what I had left. My only memory of my father's words became my life motto. 'Follow your heart.' It might sound cliche but I sure did not take it from the movies. It's true that he never really said that to me. But I believe he meant it. I believe that if he could sit with the already grown-up me tonight for a cup of hot chocolate by the fire, he would tell me exactly that: to follow my heart. His moustache would be gray or even white, but his sparkly green eyes would be the same. He would tell me to follow my heart. After all, he was a wise man, how could he not agree?
This motto helped me finally answer my endless questions. It wasn't my father doing all the work for me. I had to solve the puzzle myself. I simply followed my heart. I followed my heart when I chose to study law - I wanted to fight for justice. I followed my heart when I chose to go abroad - I wanted to help my inspiring mother have a better life. My heart took me places that were not easy. I had to learn to survive on my own among strangers and build my life from scratch. It was scary and it made me doubt my heart. My human nature had a tendency to betray, and this made me fear, and fear made me weak. But my heart never disappointed me. I stuck with it and it brought me to magical kingdoms filled with love, compassion and friendship. I will follow it again and again, and I will not hesitate. I have learned to trust it, because it knows best. And I know my father would approve. After all, he is also in my heart. He is still holding my hand, guiding me through the darkness with a smile under his moustache. And he would be proud of me.
I don't really need to know all the answers. Nobody ever does. Some people know too much and yet they are not happy. Plus, where is the thrill of knowing everything? Where is the adventure? I am blessed to have what I have: my family, my friends, my love and my precious memory to show me the way. Supposing I have inherited my father's wisdom (and I like to think that I did), I should be alright. Don't worry about me.