Take one memory


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We watched the film After Life at the weekend, and I really loved it. The film's premise is that people who have recently died arrive at a slightly derelict institution, where they must -- with the help of an advisor -- decide on the one memory that they will take with them to the afterlife. Everything else will be forgotten, and they will live in that memory for ever. At the end of a week, the chosen memory is carefully recreated on video by technicians, and they go off to the afterlife to live in that moment.

Rather than trying to suggest that this is the way things actually are when you die, I felt that the director intended it to stimulate viewers to think about which memory they would take with them, if they were in the same situation. By coincidence, I'm re-reading 'The Amber Spyglass' at the moment (the final part of Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' trilogy), and there is a similar idea in that, posed in a different way. So this has been on my mind recently, and I went to bed after the film thinking about memories.

Think about it yourself -- picking just one special memory is incredibly difficult. I've obviously got a number which are too personal for public broadcast on this blog (ahem), but I thought I'd share a few of the more -- how shall I put it? -- U Certificate ones with you.

  • When I lived in Oxford, I used to enjoy going for strolls in the city's many parks. One beautiful, sunny, crisp spring day, I was walking in the University Parks, and enjoying the stunning drifts of crocuses. As I turned a corner in the path between some trees, I saw a woman sitting on a bench, enjoying the sunshine. She was probably around 60 years old, with silver-white hair, and was wearing the most incredible tweed suit. The mixture of tweed threads in the weave were exactly the same as the colours of the crocuses carpeting the ground around the bench: magenta, pale butter yellow, cream, violet, purple and saffron orange. Though her chronological age meant she was in the autumn of her life, she was the perfect embodiment of spring. I was so delighted with how perfectly she fitted with her surroundings, and how content she seemed, that I beamed at her, and she smiled back very warmly. I had a camera on me, but was too shy to ask if I could take her photograph.
  • One gorgeous summer day, while I was doing my PhD, a group of four of us decided to bunk off, and drive to the Savernake Forest. As we drove with the summer-perfumed air coming in through the windows, we played 'Wonderful Life' by Black on the stereo. It's a bitter-sweet song, and there were particular reasons for all of us to feel the melancholy of the lyrics sharply, but we were alive and free and the sun was shining, and the melancholy just sharpened our happiness. We spent the afternoon in the forest, lying in the warm, dappled grass, chatting idly and lazily watching insects climb the grass stalks.
  • Most of my time working on whale watching tours on the Isle of Mull would qualify as a perfect memory.
  • Again while whale watching, we had a rough, blustery morning among the islands. Chilled to the bone, and weary from being buffeted about, we landed for a rest on a tiny island near Coll. I lay on the springy, sand-flecked turf, letting the sun sink into my body and warm me. After the morning on the boat, I had the odd impression, looking out to sea, that the sea was steady and our little island was bobbing up and down like a cork. I felt perfectly content, and enjoyed the feeling of knowing exactly where I was. I actually wrote a poem about this a few years later, which I won't inflict on anyone!
  • People in our neighbourhood knew that my family loved animals, and as a consequence, we used to get given half-dead animals (particularly birds) to look after, which had been hit by cars, fallen out of nests, or attacked by cats. Most of these (predictably) didn't survive the initial injuries or shock, but we had one great success story: Birdy. The unimaginatively named Birdy was a thrush found by a friend after he'd fallen out of a nest in a very tall tree. Birdy survived against the odds, and we raised him to adulthood. We began to take him on little excursions outside, digging over the compost heap to help him find his own worms. One summer day, I was sitting cross-legged in the garden reading, while Birdy perched peaceably on my knee. He was on the cusp of being independent (as was I), but for that moment, we were both content to spend time together.

What would your 'afterlife memory' be?