Do Not Go Gently into the Day

[Originally published on this website in 2015 and then published in 2016 by the now defunct Chicago Literati, this is one of those pieces I find myself re-reading so I can rage against indifference and the blase.]

To make sense of what’s on my mind, I’ll start with the simple fact that the Universe is mostly void. It’s a desolate place. Think of this: Light travels at 186,000 miles per second, and it takes 8.3 minutes for the sun’s light to travel to Earth and about 17 hours for light to escape our solar system. To reach Alpha Centauri, the closest star, takes 4.3 years traveling at the speed of light. If you wanted to leave the galaxy, you’d have to travel the speed of light for 81,500 years. There are 100,000,000,000 galaxies that make up our Universe. Space is vast. When we look up at night, we see a sky filled with stars, tens of thousands of them, but it’s what we don’t see that I’m interested in.

Think of stars as those moments in life so great or miserable that memories are imprinted in our brains. Now think of all the space in the Universe as the mundane, tedious, day in day out, monotony we suffer through to get to the stars.

What do we remember? The good and the bad. Marriages. Births. Deaths. Vacations. Dismissals. Surgeries. Rejections. Those big moments in life that don’t happen just every day. Firsts and lasts. First love. First kiss. First date. First base. Our kids’ first words, first steps, first lost tooth, first day of school. Lasts hold a spot in our brain until we do that something again. Last roller coaster. Last ingrown toenail. Last lover. Last key lime pie. Recent memories mutate like a snake losing its skin. The passage of time causes recent memory to fade, as though it’s a match that can burn for only so long. And none of us can explain why random memories grab hold and stick in our brain. Sometimes I wonder if it’s the subconscious rooting in to create sustenance for dreams.

So, our minds create memories for various reasons, and whether these memories are road maps or landmines doesn’t really matter. They exist, for better or worse. We don’t want to own every memory, and yet we must.  It happened and there’s no way to unstick that memory now that it’s stuck. The brightest memory in my mind is also the worst, the one that I wished had never happened. My youngest child at nine months old had a blockage of her bowel, an intussusception, and spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day in the hospital. What I carry close to my heart is holding her all that first night before surgery as she tried to climb up and out of my arms to escape her pain. I held onto my fear like it was lightning, and I tried to assume her pain. She survived, and is a happy, healthy eleven-year-old now, but that memory continues to haunt me, as it should. It makes me who I am today.

As do all my memories. All the stars in the sky.

But my thoughts right now are on the time in our lives when memories are not created as time passes, or all that space in the Universe between the stars.  We know that life is filled with the same dance, day in day out, and we push forward because we have no choice. We climb out of bed at unreasonable times in the morning to go to work or take our kids to school. Even if we could stay in bed or lay on the couch all day to watch mindless television, most of us wouldn’t. Our minds are programmed to move forward, get work done, finish A, B, and C on the to-do list. We’re not hunter and gatherers anymore, but cogs and gears in the great machine that never stops. So we put one foot forward, then the other, and so on, all because we have our roles to play.

And we wait for the next moment that will form into a memory. But is that any way to live? It becomes a life filled with lost moments expecting something to happen. We don’t have to be like that. Sometimes it’s the little things that add up to make a memory, like molecules of hydrogen and helium igniting to burn so bright they become a star. If we treat every moment like it’s significant, then it is.

That we’ve become part of the machine doesn’t mean we have to be in a slow march to death like everyone else. Some days it feels like that, a constant barrage of weight pulling us down, and we succumb to it. We give in.  Tomorrow will be just like today, so why struggle with what was, what is, and what shall ever be? Except we don’t have to be numbed by the unfailing sameness of life. We don’t have to be participants in the norm. The constant. The usual. Life is not a railroad with predetermined destinations. We can go anywhere, do anything, be anybody, if we’ve got the guts to do so.

We shouldn’t live with the anticipation of memories. We should make memories. We should jump up and down, have a fit, smile in the face of normality, just so today will be different. We can say we seized the day, took it by the horns, and threw it to the ground. Will it make a memory? Maybe. But if not, as least we didn’t participate in passive acceptance.

Do not go gently into the day, for our hearts and minds should burn and rave from morning to evening. We should rage, rage against the indifferent, the blasé, the common, the everyday. Do not go gentle into the day. Makes memories. Be someone else’s memory. Don’t be passive. That’s what was on my mind. I hope I’ve created a memory.

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