For my 30th birthday last month, my mom put together a collage that now hangs on a wall in my bedroom. It’s full of family pictures, with shots of me through the years sprinkled in here and there.
A huge part of who I am is reflected in the people who know and love me. Some are gone, many remain, but all of them have affected how I see myself.
But something struck me tonight.
Of everyone captured in these photographs, I’m the one I know the least. Well, it’s beyond not knowing myself–I mean, everything I experience is filtered through me, through my being. The oddness that I feel in trying to “know” me lies in the fact that I am the only person in the world whom I can’t encounter in the street.
There’s no me outside of me.
The only concrete way to describe this is to think about my answering machine at home. If I call and leave a message for my mom, and then arrive home to play it before she returns, I find myself listening to my self.
And the closer I get to me, the further away I feel.
I’ve spent the last few days sorting through some things. Things in my closet, that is.
Old poems, research articles full of highlighted passages, hard copies of blog posts, graded schoolwork from my college days–I’ve rummaged through stacks of paper, condensing and organizing and recalling. Recalling where I’ve been and how, through all the twists and turns, side tracks, roadblocks and dead ends, I’ve arrived at the point of reference known as my current self.
Of course, I’ve accumulated more than paper over the years. My closet also holds dusty baseball caps, CDs that rarely come out for a spin these days, letters from my first love I simply cannot part with, and envelopes of important financial and legal documents that comprise my numerical-based identity.
But it’s not simply a matter of what I’ve collected or where it’s stored. It’s the why of it all.
Why have I held on to this item, at this time? What significance does it possess, and has its meaning shifted over time?
As is often the case with me, a simple task like cleaning out boxes of stuff lead to some serious philosophizing.
Mementos are objects we hold dear. Memories are ineffable sensations in the mind, an image-bursting circuitry of thoughts and perceptions, self-produced snapshots depicting who we are or seem to be.
Both mementos and memories help us construct the narratives of the lives we keep.