My good memories seem to come to me as snapshots while the bad ones as aches, one fleeting and one sustained
By Maria Montalvo | Dec 31, 2012

There are moments in time that are part of our individual memories, our national memory, even an international memory, and many are, unfortunately, tragic events: the assassinations of Martin Luther King or Gandhi, the Holocaust, September 11th.

In 2012, we have watched reports or read about tragedies on scales that have transcended their locales, like the massacre at an elementary school in Connecticut or the warfare in Syria that has killed more than 8,000 civilians.

Our communities have bad memories, too.

There was the inconceivable Christmas Eve assault on New York firefighters responding to a call. A man drove up and down a country road in Hollidaysburg, PA, and randomly shot and killed several people, including a woman putting up holiday decorations inside a church.

Chicago has seen more than 500 murders in their streets and schools this year.

Our own local Edmonds writer, Harry Gatjens, told us of the death of a woman on the fringes of society named Paula.

That death may have only been memorable to Harry and Paula’s friend, Mike, had Harry not shared the story.

Each of us, as human beings, carries sadness and hurt from our lives, as well.

What do we do with these memories, especially the ones that break out hearts?

Psychologists say we go through the usual steps of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and eventually acceptance.

But what does acceptance look like?

Acceptance does not necessarily lead to forgetting or even moving on, and in some cases, maybe it should not.

If we accept the deaths at Sandy Hook School or of Paula, does that mean we are not respecting their memories?

At the same time, if we live in the memories, we may not live well for those we have lost, something we are encouraged to do in a poem by Gasttlee:


Good, blessed souls rest in peace

knowing full and well

others live on

to continue their work.

The blood of hatred

runs cold and rampant

digging innocent graves

as well as their own.

Their gifts

inspire our strives

and fulfill our every need.

Over every hill,

up every sky

flies angels of mercy

and unbeatable power.

They give their lives

only to live forever

and encourage us down the road.

Their undivided presence

always keeps us whole.

Every move they take

will touch us

and renew our spirits.

The more they reach out to us,

the more force we have.

We step up

fulfilling our purpose

and their influence

with all our strength.


I read this poem not only from the military perspective it was written but in the hope that it means that people, individually and collectively, will continue to remember and to create a good memories in the future out of the painful ones in the past.

We have wonderful and memorable collective moments… the Berlin Wall coming down, the photo of the Sailor kissing the nurse at the end of WWII, and images of people helping each other after Hurricane Sandy or the earthquake in Haiti.

These good memories are built on the ache of the terrible events that preceded them.

Not all of our good memories are built on the bad, but as we live and experience more, in order to have new, good memories, we have to weave them into our sadness.

My good memories seem to come to me as snapshots while the bad ones as aches, one fleeting and one sustained.

When I think about it, though, I can conjure up innumerable happy snapshots: standing with my parents and brother on a beach with ponies, my husband and I eating a ham and brie sandwich on the streets of Paris, three friends standing on a glacier, riding in a convertible with the music blaring, reading a book to a three-year-old, watching a great band, or even sitting on the floor of a nearly empty apartment listening to David Bowie.

When I consider these years later, there are aches associated with some of those memories, due to death or loss of love or misconception, but the memories are still vivid and wonderful.

If a memory is an ache or a moment of pure joy or somewhere in between, perhaps we can honor it by stepping up to fulfill some purpose—either by striving to create understanding and caring to lessen future tragedies or just by celebrating it.

And maybe if we are lucky, a little of both.

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