I’m afflicted with an unfortunate tendency to associate places with people. So my personal geography shrinks when sites I’ve enjoyed become haunted by the absence of someone I loved .
My husband virtually worshipped the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We had hundreds of wonderful times there. But after he died I was not only unable to go near the building, I couldn’t go into any museum. Obviously this limited my life. Then during a visit to my sister in Colorado she suggested we see the Denver Art Museum’s new Rembrandt exhibit. “I can’t…,”I began , but I knew I had to revise “can’t” to “must.” Reluctantly I went, but when my sister wandered to the next galllery I stood in front of an exquisite etching, tears running down my cheeks. Visitors must have thought this was an emotional reaction to Rembrandt, but it was that a museum brought up more memories of my husband than I could handle. Stilll it dented the barrier I’d erected and allowed me to start enjoying art again – for both of us.
Ir wasn’t only art that paralyzed me. I couldn’t listen to any song we had danced to, or read any poet we had both loved, or go to any plays although Mel and I loved the theatre. But short of moving to another planet, we have to learn to transform memories so they don’t wound us. My son taught me a lesson about this. After his father died, David went to the office and visited his father’s former staff. I asked him how he could bear to go into those rooms, He said, “I go to old places and put new experiences into them.”
That’s what a widow I interviewed did. Isabel had been married to a Frenchman and they vacationed in Paris every year .She loved that beautiful city, but after Henri died she couldn’t imagine traveling without him. Then her daughter showed her an ad for a budget trip to Paris. “It was only four days so I thought it might be doable.” Isabel said. Still, she was so uncertain that she went to the airport unable to believe she’d really get on the plane. I asked her when she realized she would. ”When I saw my luggage going down the chute,” she said.
But Isabel also armed herself with a list of sites that she and Henri had never gone to. “I went to an agricultural fair and a music museum that were interesting,” she .said. The trip wasn’t easy but she came home with a reignited love of travel. She choses locales she’s always wanted to see but that don’t have memories, like her recent trip to Iceland
Traveling isn’t a panacea for everyone. Noah, an elderly widower, wasn’t interested in going beyond his zip code. Although he’d always been a loner, he talked himself into joining a local political discussion group. “Each week we solve the world’s problems,” he jokes. But he’s serious when he adds: “It’s important to do anything that gets you out of the rut.”
There are so many factors that narrow life beyond our control, let’s not make memory one of them.
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