Speak, Memory

Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - 11:18 am

Speak, Memory

Phillip Toledano’s “Days with My Father” is a moving, personal photo essay. To call Toledano’s work a “photo essay” is simply inadequate; it’s so much more than that. It’s a reflection on memory and relationships, on absence and loss, and on the frail, tender spaces between the love of a son and a mother and a father.
It lacks pretension. I’ve imbibed this son’s portrait of a 98-year-old man many times — the first at three in the morning, the last reading Toledano’s simply worded tales of remembrance and observation to my ‘tiny’ family during supper. We laughed. We cried. We sighed. We kissed our boys.
Yesterday, we had our first cuts-and-copy for a show addressing Alzheimer’s disease (podcast release, March 26th). While listening to Krista and psychologist Alan Dienstag’s conversation, the title of Vladimir Nabokov’s memoir kept swirling around in my head, “speak, memory.” I even found myself mouthing the words in some strange poetic manner.
Why? Dienstag’s insights into Alzheimer’s became universal quite quickly. His experiences speak to memory writ large. They speak to me in my life as I try to remember all that is good, and even my failures.
Nabokov spoke to this in his writing about his own life. And I’m learning that there is this indistinguishable line between the autobiographical facts and events of one’s life and the stories that surround them, that build on them, that transcend them. That includes the stories we tell to our loved ones. They become as true as any recordable event.
Sharing these stories is a way to communicate when all else is lost. Giving away these memories in some recorded form ensures that these memories endure — even as the person holding these memories loses contact with them.
And although Toledano’s father has short-term memory loss and not Alzheimer’s, a common silken thread of factual events mixed with stories fill the gaps where memory ceases to exist. And from this necessary mix a new story emerges. As his son records these memories, remembering begins again. And that gift of memory is given to us. I’m incredibly thankful for that act.

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