Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Songs of A Childhood: Words to My Mother

There's something peculiar about memory and thoughts... I've been having an intriguing snail mail correspondence with a great friend of mine from school. One of the topics that I thought about was memory, thought and how they work together. With thoughts, as soon as you think them up, you immediately begin to forget them. This is exactly what I wrote:

"I will attempt, as best as I can to type exactly as my mind thinks. There is only the slight issue that as I type, no matter how fast, I am already forgetting some of the reactions I had to the beginning of your letter. And as more time passes I will continue to forget. Not completely of course, but the details will lose focus and the memory will never be as sharp as they were in that instance."

We can talk about what kind of letter this is for us but that's beside the point lol. The idea is that there is nothing that I can think that I will remember word for word later on. Even if I try to type as I'm thinking, I'm steadily forgetting at rocket speed and the things that I end up writing are simply crafty works of a human's faulty memory. I originally wrote this post away from my computer so I didn't have the added benefit of fast typing. All that you see now is the best my memory can give me as affected by the type of person I am, how "good" my memory is, and the other memories and thoughts in my mind battling for space in the forefront. So here's a copy of what I wrote down on Sunday when I wrote this:

I give you that introduction because I'm at church now. Aside from the obvious folly of writing this instead of listening in church, I think the ending moral will end in an upstanding theme. I had to write this down because, speaking of memory, I've been burned before by the inevitably negative equation of an infinitely diminishing thought and an irreparably porous memory. I was determined today to get this down. Ironically, in this long intro-turned-prologue, I am still forgetting, so let me get right to it. [two endings to my intro? hmmm..]

Today at church a song from my childhood came up in praise and worship and triggered a vivid memory from my toddler years in California. Not only California, but Inglewood. A place I lived before I moved to Gardena, CA at about 5 years old. So you can imagine that I'm surprised at 19 years old that I'm remembering something from when I was 3 or 4. It's a nod to music's powerful ability to improve and catalyze well-preserved memories if they can be directly related to a certain song or artist. Alas, that's for another post.

So the song goes something like this:
He's bigger than all my problems, Bigger than all my fears,
My God is bigger than any mountain that I can or cannot see.
Bigger than all my questions, Bigger than anything!
My God is bigger than any mountain that I can or cannot see.

I tried to Youtube it, but all the songs were a little folksier than how Nigerians apparently sing it. Anyway, my mom used to sing this song to my siblings and I when we were younger. She'd bounce us on her knee and we laughed and giggled as her words pierced [and if you ever heard my mother sing, you know this is not just a cliche use of the word pierce, her singing is high and it pierced] every invisible fear in the small room. She was soothing and we were toddlers. So let me play again with memory: That's all I can remember. That is the simple vivid memory that came to me when my church moved to this song. I wasn't especially sad or happy at the memory at first. Just intrigued and nostalgic. But memory is never that easy. Now that I'm nineteen and not three, I'm getting a clear picture with details that are unquestionably cut out. One, because despite the clarity of toddlers, I did not and could not understand everything going on at that time. Now that the memory has come up again, I'm forced to rethink it. That song is not necessarily the most upbeat, happy-go-lucky song for children. It's soothing for me now and it was soothing for me then. But the reactions were for completely different reasons.

My mom's been through a lot and around 3 and 4 was just the beginning of a long time of struggle for her. Single mother, 3 babies, just immigrated from Nigeria and just separated from a bipolar husband. For all intents and purposes, she was alone and about to embark on a journey that she had no way of predicting its outcome. All the while she was leading three oblivious kids and hoping to God that they were always fed.

And here's where the song comes in. When I was a child, I didn't even listen to the words. I just liked that my mom sang it to me and that she seemed to be comforted by it and so I was comforted by her. But now, I realize how much is in a song. What type of memory my mom must have had attached to that song to make it a lullaby for kids in her time of struggle. How she must have had to hold on to those words and really believe that God is bigger than ever struggle. Those that she can see right in front of her and those that she can never know but are still there. Realizing that type of power in a song that once held such a basic meaning is strange for me. And I'm sure if any of you have ever had that experience, you'd find it intriguing as well.

What I do know for sure is that, realizing how my mom felt at that time begins to change a lot of old memories to try to make them make sense with my new knowledge. Life may have (thankfully) been easy for me, but there were a lot of sacrifices my mom made and a lot of times that she was not positive whether or not we would make it to the next day. I thank God that he is indeed bigger than all our troubles. Big enough to form my memories of youth in a positive light so as not to be hampered and brought down by the issues of adults. And big enough to show me that the song remains just as true now as it was back then.