Memory: The Present, the Elusive, the Good, and the Bad

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Facebook reminds me of a photo from 7 years ago, the moment I became a grandmother.

My mother reminds me that she still talks to my dad – turning to the chair he spent the last years of his life reclining in.

I try to remember what it felt like to have my now 34-year-old son’s hand in mine, to cross the street.  I try to remember where I put the car keys or the reason I walked into the room

Memory is a funny thing, a friend, a foe, an uninvited dinner guest who will not leave, it is a long-awaited sneeze, that itches your nose, but just won’t come.  Just writing this is making my eyes water.  Memories can make my chest fill with longing ache, even as they make me smile.  This is the puzzle of memory – at once everpresent and elusive, pleasure-giving and painful.

I think of my father, standing in his garage kingdom, surrounded by tools and sawdust.  The memories of his voice, his capable hands, his palpable love and pride for his children and grandchildren, fill me with feelings of blessing and loss in equal measure.  

I think of the giddy days, after meeting my husband, when I began to know, with total clarity, that this man would share my life, and make it wonderful.  I remember our dates, the wedding where he literally leaped over the crowd at the bedeken to share a smile.  I miss the excitement of those first months in our first apartment with the LIRR rumbling past our windows.  

I think of becoming a mother, and being a mother. I remember the feel, the scent, of an infant, of my son, asleep on my shoulder.  From those early days with three small children, while so much is a blur, I remember the joy of little boys, learning to walk, learning to run, learning to ride.  Recalling how vacations meant introducing these growing souls to a world of wonder, to nature and beauty, and to see it fresh, through their eyes, makes my eyes water.  

I think of my first trip to Israel. I recently came across the aerogrammes I wrote home (this was well before cell phone days, and I somehow arranged Israel-US couriers to send my parents my rolls of film and letters).  They remind me of my ongoing love affair with a country whose sights, smells, people, and places tug at my heart, constantly.

I think of my grandchildren, and the moment I was blessed to see my children become parents. I remember the joy of their infant giggles, the excitement of their toddler antics, and the unmitigated pride as they become readers, and thinkers and do-ers of mitzvot and chesed. Remembering their unbridled adorableness, I miss every moment we are not together.

I can think of plenty of less pleasant memories: that same king of the garage-workshop dad reduced to sadness at the loss of his parents and reduced to a silent shell by dementia.  Family job losses and changes and the stress they have caused.  It is understood that memories of disappointments and challenges and losses and leavings would bring us pain and make us sad.

What is intriguing is how all the lovely remembering also catches in my chest – how it leaves me wistful.

Maybe delicious memories are like a rich and wonderful chocolate bar.  You so enjoy eating it, that when you finish, you wish for more, for that sumptuous taste to stay with you, forever.  Unlike chocolate, however, where there can and will be more available after we finish enjoying one, memory is for things over and done.  Memories tempt us with the taste, the feel of those wonderful moments of our lives.  But they remain just that, moments – once passed, only possible to recover in wistful remembering.

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Rona Novick, PhD is the Dean of the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration and holds the Raine and Stanley Silverstein Chair in Professional Ethics and Values.

In addition to her Yeshiva University appointment, Dr. Novick has, since its founding, served as the Co-Educational Director of the Hidden Sparks program which provides consultation and professional development to day schools and Yeshivas to support the success of diverse learners.

Dr. Novick received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Rutgers University and completed her doctoral internship at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.  She developed the Alliance for School Mental Health at North-Shore Long Island Jewish Medical Center and served as its director, bringing state-of-the-art social emotional, behavioral, and mental-health prevention and services to students.  Collaborating with her Alliance staff and experienced educators, she authored the BRAVE bully prevention program for schools.

Dr. Novick has extensive clinical and research expertise in behavior management and child behavior therapy, bullying and trauma, and has published scholarly articles and book chapters on school applications of behavior management, special education, children and trauma and bully prevention and social emotional learning in schools.  She has delivered numerous presentations at national and international conferences, focusing on her research interests in parenting and parent-school partnerships, child anxiety disorders, social-emotional learning, special education and the behavior and development of young children. Along with many scholarly publications, she is the author of a book for parents:  Helping Your Child Make Friends, and editor of the book series Kids Don’t Come With Instruction Manuals. Her blog is called Life’s Tool Box and can be found at www.lifestoolbox.wordpress.com And her children’s stories can be found on www.storybird.com, by searching under drronovick as the author.