An anniversary, a memoir and a film  (Edited)

“…..authority is respected, obedience is revered, and independent thinking is not. I was taught as a young girl not to “make waves” or “rock the boat.”…… “Just let it go,” Mother would say. “You know how you feel, that’s what counts.”

“I recommend a simple mastectomy. It’s an easy procedure, basically like cutting off a mole ..” (Terry Tempest Williams)

On birthdays of loved ones and family we return and remember. Likewise, on anniversaries that mark the passing away of people we also return.   We may also seek stories, films or activities that can connect us to this event and to our common humanity. Over this last week leading up to my mother’s passing away three years ago I have been reading Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, and also, got the chance to watch a new film by Pedro Almodovar, Pain and Glory, at the local cinema.

Pedro Almodovar’s film, Pain and Glory, contains many stories within stories. It is a story of memory, loss, addiction, suffering, love, the origins of creation and art and creators.  This film is less raw and intense than his other films. It is almost contemplative, and just as beautiful in terms of its vibrant colours, art, story and image. The film opens with the main character closing his eyes and drifting away. He is sitting on a chair at the bottom of a swimming pool. He might be meditating or drowning. One interesting theme is that as his chronic physical pains and ailments disappear for a while they create space for images from his childhood and his past to arise, as if the pain in itself is a wall that keeps the past at bay. Remembering will bring him back to life. He also realizes that he has not grieved or recovered from either his mother’s passing away or a serious surgery he had two years ago. As he revisits his childhood in a poor village in Valencia, aspects of his Catholic boarding school education, his relationship with his mother and the social and religious underpinnings that influenced him and their relationship, and also, as he reconnects with people he once knew and explores past events and choices, an awakening of desire to take care of his health, to create and live takes place.

The memoir is written by Terry Tempest Williams, who is an author, and was also a curator of education and naturalist-in-residence at the Utah Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City. In this account she reconstructs the journey of her mother’s and grandmother’s passing away to cancer and the devastation of a natural habitat. One story informs the other and the environmental loss becomes the holding container for her familial losses and personal pain. We also get glimpses of the socio-cultural events, policies, stories and beliefs that influence the personal, the familial, and the flora and fauna of their common homeland.

In the prologue of her book she writes:

‘In the past seven years, Great Salt Lake has advanced and retreated. The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, devastated by the flood, now begins to heal. Volunteers are beginning to reconstruct the marshes just as I am trying to reconstruct my life. I sit on the floor of my study with journals all around me. I open them and feathers fall from their pages, sand cracks their spines, and sprigs of sage pressed between passages of pain heighten my sense of smell— and I remember the country I come from and how it informs my life. Most of the women in my family are dead. Cancer. At thirty-four, I became the matriarch of my family. The losses I encountered at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge as Great Salt Lake was rising helped me to face the losses within my family. When most people had given up on the Refuge, saying the birds were gone, I was drawn further into its essence. In the same way that when someone is dying many retreat, I chose to stay……. Perhaps, I am telling this story in an attempt to heal myself, to confront what I do not know, to create a path for myself with the idea that “memory is the only way home.” I have been in retreat. This story is my return. TTW JULY 4, 1990’

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