Try to Remember


Memory anniversaries are so real, emotionally and physically. I wonder why that is. Of course, there are many signs that let our bodies and subconscious know an anniversary approaches. At a certain time of year, there’s typical weather, holidays, typical events, familiar calendar dates. But I believe that even if we didn’t have those signs, there’s something deeper our souls would recognize. I don’t understand it, but I believe it.

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a tender and callow fellow.
Try to remember and if you remember then follow.

There isn’t one particular memory that stands out to me at this time of year. But there’s something about the beginning of school and the familiar transition from summer into fall. It feels mostly like being homesick. Growing up, when I would go away from home, I would get terribly homesick. It didn’t really end with “growing up;” I struggled significantly the first few months of college.

When I was in first grade, we didn’t have assigned seats. Or maybe we had assigned tables, but not specific seats. I was usually one of the first to arrive, and there was a specific chair I would sit in. I don’t think there was anything especially great about it; I think it was just where I was used to sitting, and so I always sat there. Then one day–I think I must have come in late–the seat was already taken, and I had to sit somewhere else.

I know it seems like such a small thing, but it was really upsetting to my little world. (These are the kinds of things I try to remember when something seems like a really big deal to my students, when from an adult perspective, it’s not). I remember finishing a writing prompt that day by drawing a picture of myself going home. I don’t think I told anyone about it at the time, but I know I started pretending to be sick so I wouldn’t have to go to school some days (a habit that resurfaced in late elementary school, but then mostly because I didn’t want to go to my piano lessons).

Even though I loved school growing up (and loved it so much that now I’m a teacher–a first grade teacher, at that!)–and even though fall is my favorite season–there’s something about the school year approaching the bring memories of fear of change and anxiety over being separated from the familiar and not knowing what to do.

Try to remember when life was so tender
When no one wept except the willow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
When dreams were kept beside your pillow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
When love was an ember about to billow.
Try to remember and if you remember then follow.

Since I am a teacher, the start of the school year is still a huge marker in my year. Mixed in with those childhood memories are now memories of starting each year as a teacher. The first year out of college, being truly “on my own” for the first time. Every year’s starting with all of the excitement and anxiety with its changes and unknowns, the utterly indescribable exhaustion of the first few weeks of school.

Also, the start of the school year simply marks the passage of time for me. One thing that means for me is another year I can’t tell my dad about (on this side of heaven, anyway). And so heightens the feeling of homesickness.

Deep in December it’s nice to remember
Although you know the snow will follow.
Deep in December it’s nice to remember
Without a hurt the heart is hollow.
Deep in December
it’s nice to remember
The fire of September that made us mellow.
Deep in December our hearts should remember and follow.

“Without a hurt the heart is hollow.” That is one my favorite lines from the song, “Try to Remember,” from the musical The Fantasticks. Pain–what seems to kill bits of us–is paradoxically what makes us alive and human. As El Gallo, the play’s narrator, explains:

There is a curious paradox.

That no one can explain.

Who understands the secret of the reaping of the grain?

Who understands why Spring is born

Out of Winter’s laboring pain?

Or why we all must die a bit

Before we grow again.

I do not know the answer.

I merely know it’s true.

I hurt them for that reason

And myself a little bit, too.

I don’t understand it, but I believe it.

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