On A Poem By Pablo Neruda

There’s No Forgetting
by Pablo Neruda


My therapist told me that you don’t get rid of your adaptive behavior; it served a survival function and still does. Becoming whole and healed is a process where you spend your time in your real self more and more and in your adaptions less and less.

Adaptive was sort of a technical term in the context and I am not going to define it for the moment because I want to apply the idea to memory.

It’s pretty safe to say that I had a stressful childhood and until a few years ago I carried memories like a huge basket on top of my head and mind. The load was solid and hard and gave me headaches. I was pretty miserable and angry.

At some point, the balance tipped and I found that if I did the things that made me strong and aware and more real in the world I had less time to be miserable. Yes, picture a seesaw. Most of my life seemed to be stalled, with me sitting on the ground, my knees scrunched up, my hands gripping the iron handle attached to a wooden plank. The contraption balanced on a steel pipe buried in the ground. All of the metal parts are rusted but smooth from use. I sat there waiting and sad and alone, wishing there was some way I could get off the seesaw. Wishing was part of the problem, too. The part of me that was strong and intelligent sat on the other end of the seesaw weightless, ineffectual, invisible.

There were many things that contributed to change the balance of power. I couldn’t seem to jump off the seesaw, and when I caught glimpses of myself from the bottom, I didn’t really pay much attention to that self that was suspended above the earth.

I have used memory to make the shift. I haven’t forgotten my childhood miseries, but I have trained myself to remember the gifts of my childhood; the woods in Maine, the hidden Beaverdam, ice skating, making Christmas ornaments with my mother, the smell of turpentine when she was painting, the cold kerosene smell of my father when he came home from Alert at 3 AM and took Tom and me into the snowy backyard to look at the aurora borealis.

And I have to admit that despite the despair of my parent’s marriage, they both loved me.

It’s that kind of understanding that adds weight to my real self and tips the seesaw in favor of my strengths. The weak and helpless self is still there – it is just as much who I am as my hair and teeth and I can’t get rid of it anymore than I can get rid of an arm or leg but I don’t have to live there all the time. I can spend more time being happy so I have less time left over to feel bad.