the light of memory

12052011016eOLD NOTEBOOKS: East Anglia: [post written in New Delhi] The old house is sold. A printout of the email from the lawyer signed, enveloped, stamped and sent by DHL to England, 4000 miles away. A small packet of A4 paper folded once, bearing all the correct documentation, tucked away in a bundle, squeezed into an aircraft for a night and a day. At the other end, registered, signed-for and unlocked, unpacked, seals broken, it’s confirmed by officials, checked, stamped and placed in a folder and delivered by a guy on a motorbike to an office in East Anglia. Smoothened out in the bright white electric light of a cold January morning (by a mature female hand probably, cosmetics, manicured nails and a silver ring), and there’s my signature, exposed for all to see; idiosyncratic squiggle recognised by law as being ‘me’ saying ‘yes’ I agree to the foregoing; I relinquish, renounce, I have read and understood the above-mentioned; box ticked, it’s all yours… sayonara, goodbye little house that sheltered me for 36 years, my small cave, hollow, burrow in the side of a hill. Everything there that was ‘me’ is fading away, even as we speak, already feels like I was never there. It’s like a death… all that remains is a memory of so many comings and goings, arrivals/departures, and in the 36 years I was there I never stayed longer than 3 months. There are only the journals left; words written in old notebooks, hard-to-read writing in ball-point pen etched into the surface of old yellowed paper:

OCTOBER 10, 2012: Today is the last day. Getting ready for the flight to Thailand… that familiar feeling of departures is in the air. This time tomorrow I will not be here. I’ll not be in a room that has split floor boards stacked in a cupboard next to the fireplace in the sharp coldness before the fire is lit. Yes, at least I’ll be away from this stunningly cold house where I have to wear a coat indoors, going around with kindling, paper and matches first thing in the morning, rushing to get the fire lit, the flames going and some heat started up. I notice a certain… vigour in everything that seems to be necessary to keep warm. Words come out in steamy puffs of breath, and a kind of gasping breathlessness: haaaaah! It’s cold.

There’s a fragrance of cleaning products around the house. Yesterday was a day of hoover and broom and the place is clean now, pity I’ll not be here to appreciate it. Everything gets a major clean-up a couple of days before I go. It’s always like this; then, on the last morning, I have breakfast, wash out my coffee cup, place it on the edge of the sink; wash my breakfast plate and leave it to dry in the dish-rack – it’ll have plenty time to dry…. The house is locked up, sealed like a time capsule until I return; into the taxi and I’m gone. The house remains as I left it, exactly like this, for countless days and nights and afternoons and early mornings, sun peeps in the window, nobody at home; all through winter, all through Spring and then one day I come back, open the door, break through the spider webs, trip over the mountain of junk mail and enter into this same moment enclosed here now. Same cup sitting on the edge of the sink, same plate in the dish-rack. And the whole house says: Hello, how’ve you been?

And now I know I’ll never be back there again. Stirring the ashes of a fire gone out, a life I think I wanted but never had – maybe I should have tried harder… maybe it was meant to be the way it is. Maybe I’ll go there one day with my Thai niece M – we’ll drive down that road and I’ll show her the house where Toong-Ting used to live. Slow down and stop, look at the old place for a moment and drive on. It’ll all be ancient history by then …

“The light of memory, or rather the light that memory lends to things, is the palest light of all…. I am not quite sure whether I am dreaming or remembering, whether I have lived my life or dreamed it. Just as dreams do, memory makes me profoundly aware of the unreality, the evanescence of the world, a fleeting image in the moving water.” [Eugène Ionesco]


30 thoughts on “the light of memory

    • Thanks Val, meaningful words. It’s a relief to be able to release all that tight energy contained in something that never happened… “there is an unborn, unoriginated, uncreated, unformed…. therefore is there an escape from the born, originated, created, formed.” (link)

  1. One of the most difficult realities to grasp is that everything is precisely the way it is supposed to be. In the rare moments when I’m able to wrap my head around this fact (or, more accurately, unwrap my head from the belief that my past should have been otherwise), I find that there’s “nuthin’ left to do but smile, smile, smile.” Jeff

    • Thanks Jeff, yes, smile. And ‘everything is precisely the way it is supposed to be’, that feeling it’s all always seen in hindsight – what we think is an action to create irreversable change, may be just part of a flow of changes unfolding. We’re never completely aware of it. The mystery…

  2. I loved your description of rinsing the cup, washing the plate, setting them away. I could almost hear them clinking into place. Then the house sits, patient and empty, while the hive of thoughts that once was lurching through its passages is suddenly gone. The space inside the air is quiet. Sunlight can break the rules and hide in the closet if it wants. No one is looking. The house is still being the house– just being. Just being a house. No thoughts of being a better house. No schemes. Just wood and stone placed into shape by far smarter hands who were guided by ideas and old knowledge. Even now, after you have signed it over, it continues to rest on the land, to have a shape and to enclose a volume. This simple act creates a presence, a temporary meaning upon the landscape. The house has a life, too. You are both moving on… sneaking off into this moment.


    • Thanks Michael, so good to be able to share these small events and tiny moments because all of that is TOTALLY GONE now. Yes, the sun still shines in the rooms, looks around, but stagehands have rearranged the scene for Act 2. The house has a different identity now and my part in its story is over. Thanks too for reminding me the building itself has a life, wood and stone resting in the landscape. It’s comforting to know that, and have it stay there in the mind’s eye…

  3. Bittersweet for sure. Memories in the furniture. If these walls could talk. I always hope my family’s home on Long Island is well loved, no matter who lives there.

  4. Ah, letting go of dreams and memories… or is it that they let go of themselves. And in the end we are always in the ever present, present moment. As it happens I too have memories of East Anglia having been born and raised in Cambridge. Best wishes.

    • After the whole thing is gone, there’s the feeling it’s all been like a dream. You wake up back in the place that’s ‘always in the ever present, present moment.’ I know Cambridge, Newmarket, my place was over on the coast. It was selected by my Aunt Liz who was a retired nurse in London, I have no connection in the area. A nice part of the country…

  5. I’ll not be in a room that has split floor boards stacked in a cupboard next to the fireplace in the sharp coldness before the fire is lit.

    Ah, so that’s how you lowered the floor.

    • There was no damp-proof membrane under the floor of the old kitchen so they had to dig it up, and I had it lowered by one step as part of the job… a headache-free life after that

    • The Ionesco quote suited the feeling I have for the house; a sad farewell to all these elaborate schemes I had then, never realized. Thank you for the visit, please come again.

  6. Sad to be sure… to let go of a house full of memories and dreams that are now lost. But I am told, we must let go, to be free, to free ourselves of ego. You can tell me this when we sell our little paradise, our barn upstate. Many dreams there, more memories. We were supposed to retire there. I am having trouble with discarding books that were part of a dream. Have discarded some dreams, one of being a writer and throwing away all short stories but kept drafts of books. When will I make a clean slate and cut from the ego? Have new goals now pertaining to freedom but when will I make the break and see the “evanescence of the world”?

    • Hi Ellen, hope you manage to let go of your little paradise barn upstate – just let it go its own way (see Michael’s comment above). There’s been a fair bit of dialogue about this subject of letting go of things tightly held and I’m learning from what people are saying, getting more interested in how it works. It’s not easy to see past all the associations and through to the “evanescence of the world” – maybe it’s just not possible, attachment being the way it is. Maybe it’s a characteristic of existence, like gravity. We can’t change that, but can see through it… see the bigger picture. For me it was a long, long abiding with it, a dwelling on the thought for years; holding on to a dream I had – that’s all, it wasn’t a reality. When I saw it was just an accumulation of ideas, I was able to allow it to fall and crumble away bit by bit. But there was some urgency to it, at the time, a decision had to be made there and then. So I did it, that was that, no going back. The relief was tremendous…

      • Appreciate your generous reply. I feel urgency to let go but husband does not. For one thing we have not figured out just where to live or when he will retire. Him being so sick this year makes it urgent to me. We’ll see. I am sure the relief is tremendous for you. Just threw out one manuscript and a folder full of ideas and now working on others to discard. Dreams in the trash. So what!

      • What’s gone is gone, husband will get around to it I’m sure – if you continue to insist. And thanks for the reminder, over here the letting-go is not finished yet; cardboard boxes full of hoarded scribbles for more than 10 years headed for the shredder, one day soon…

  7. Memories do add light or color or some kind of veneer over the remembered experience. Sometimes it feels to me as if, by remembering something, we are creating an entirely different thing.

    • Thank you, yes it’s like that… sometimes an intense proliferation of thought, papanca, other times a subtle refreshed reflection. I’m aware that the memories of the old house in these last few posts indicate something I’m unwilling to let go of. There’ll come a time soon though, when it’s gone and forgotten.

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