T.S. Eliot begins the first of The Four Quartets, “Burnt Norton,” with these opening lines:


Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.


We are always, past, present and future, rolled into the one moment of time which is now. But our memories wash over us, and we remember and feel the memories as if they were now, in the present. Sometimes the past is more real than the present and preferable to the future.


I wonder if we can dissect our memories and find out the why of the things we remember. Is it that there is some emotional attachment to specific memories or is it less of emotion and more of an imprint in our lives that bubbles up when we least expect it?


After my father died in 1996, I started a practice of calling my mother nearly every day just around 9:00. Since I am the oldest of three children and the only male she sometimes (much to my sister’s chagrin) needed my advice and counsel. The early phone calls were always about how much she missed my father. Sometimes her grief was attached to some detail of daily life that my father took care of that was now left to me.


As time went on, we fell into a comfortable pattern of chit-chat and newsy talk. My mother never learned to drive so her mode of transportation, in the small town in which she lived, was always about the places she walked and the people she saw. She was diminutive, a glorious word used by short people to describe their stature. My word, not hers. So, this 5-foot 2-inch woman in her 70’s, 80’s and 90’s walked everywhere she went. The two exceptions were the bus she took to the shopping center, 23 miles away, and the casino she visited every Sunday. This is all by way of background.


My mother started every phone conversation, no matter what time of year, with “You got sunshine?” Even now, it makes me chuckle. For my mother, especially during the long and sometimes gloomy fall and winter sunshine was an important ingredient for her well-being. She needed the sunshine like oxygen to affirm life and to know that the world was okay. “You got sunshine?” was her way of checking on me but, more importantly, it was her way of being able to tell me that there was sunshine in her life, in a very profound way affirming her own being in the world.

My mother died in 2016 and there are days when I still reach for my phone at 9:00 hoping against hope to be able to make that call and hear her ask: “You got sunshine?”


So perhaps T.S. Eliot had some answers to my questions about memory in the lines from the poem I quoted earlier,


What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.


In my ongoing addiction to “Call the Midwife,” I listened and cried to these words the other night: “Sometimes the route to joy is indirect, our journey home not quite as expected. There is no magic star to guide our steps, no ancient prophecy to predict our way. The greatest gift is to know that we travel not alone but in the company of others. That there are hands we can reach for and hearts to keep us warm.” Jennifer Worth “Call the Midwife.”


May we all have the company of others and hands we can reach for and hearts to keep us warm.

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