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I just borrowed a memory from a friend.

The thing about a borrowed memory is that I can’t give it back to the borroweree.

Once lent, a vivid memory endures, a close copy of the one held dear by its original owner.

As a borrower of memory, I am obligated to respect, cherish and handle with care its perpetuation, its nourishment. Until I can pass it on to the next borrower.

Is borrowing the same thing as theft? Am I a thief of memory? Maybe not—I did not mean to borrow, it just came at me, entered my mind, and there it resides.

The thing about an acquired memory is that it often morphs and mingles with similar memories that I hold dear. The two memories entwine and enrich one another.

Quick, allow me to give you an explanatory anecdote before you roll your eyes and leave my presence.

Friday night, during the 12th annual My Favorite Poem gala at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, my friend Robbie Willmarth gave a remarkable account of an encounter she once had with a work by the poet Carl Sandburg. Her fond memory leapt into my own recollection of an encounter I, too, had with this remarkable poet. As a precocious high schooler many decades ago, I sat enthralled in the presence of Sandburg as he recited, sang and wove tales on the stage of Foster Auditorium in Tuscaloosa. 

Then, after the program was over, the audience dissolving, the lights dimming, the press heading out, I got brave enough to descend from the balcony and race toward the stage just to see whether I could shake the hand of this wonderful historian/troubador/poet. Or at least stand in his presence.

My buddy, Doug Bleicher, was ahead of me and was already chatting with Sandburg, so it seemed safe to walk up, mumble some incoherent expression of adulation, and then try not to wash my right hand for a day or two. I was so excited that to this day I don’t recall exactly what was said, but this thing I do know: Carl Sandburg responded with gentle wit to our comments and questions, smiled and listened intently, and in general made us feel like we were the most important temporary companions in the county.

Then, as memory-makers will do, Sandburg went on his way to the next town and left behind a permanent image in the minds of both us kids.

Doug and I compared notes and found that each of us independently loved the poetry of this man, each of us was awe-stricken by our encounter, each of us filed sweet memories away for rainy days…and life went on.

Today, my memory, the memory of Robbie’s experience, the memory of Doug’s parallel poetic universe revealed, stay with me and will emerge over the years to offer comfort when times are chaotic.

The infinitely long string of memories, borrowed or created within, sustains us artists and poets and writers and creators…and links us together immutably with past, present and future, always present, always circling around seeking new angles and new ways of telling that which must never be forgotten, that which must be willingly lent out to the next excited and alert observer


© Jim Reed 2017 A.D.

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