Monday, May 25, 2009

War, Memory and a Pack of Camels

Memorial Day is a unique holiday mostly perhaps because on it, we do something voluntarily that we most often either have to be forced to do or only engage in only when the ravages of physical debility and time have left us little other choice; remember.

Memory is both a funny thing and a powerful thing, jester and king in one. It not only honors the past and the sacrifices of the past but it can provide a powerful alternative perspective that shapes our future behavior. I first realized this when I tried to quit smoking. My theory was that the memory of the pleasurable association with cigarettes even more than the present physical need was what was making this task extraordinarily difficult. I am a very visually oriented person so it seemed evident to me that the continued presence of any visual association with cigarettes was inevitably going to send me into a tailspin of craving and cause me to eventually fail. I went through the house throwing out the empty cigarette packs thankfully bereft of their sweet cargo that had formerly summoned me to their altar, I scoured the ashtrays removing any trace of silky ash that I sift between my finger recalling the lost wonders of Shambala, I opened the windows, clearing the haze that had wafted through my living room like the morning mist on Dunis Moor, I threw out all my videotapes (yes videotapes) of pre-1975 movies, especially war movies depicting cigarettes as one of the few un-guilty (then) pleasures of the foxhole, and any movie with Molly Ringwold. I hid all my lighters and even made sure that all the plastic pull tabs on food items that were similar to the little golden seductive strip of promise at the top of the cigarette pack were pre-removed from any food items in the refrigerator. I knew this last was extreme and dangerous and might cause my Oscar Mayer bologna to go bad, but, I was determined! This was war!

Then I went out back to work on bottling my 2007 Merlot wine and take my mind off smoking. There was clearly something wrong; not perhaps with the wine but with my plan. Despite the fact that I had purged all visual cues to my unhealthy preoccupation I was still seized with an insatiable desire to run out and buy my next pack. Was my theory incorrect? Was the habit of smoking really more a physical than a psychological addiction? As I pondered this question my gaze fell onto the identifying label on the cartons of bottles I was using to bottle my Merlot. They were the dark burgundy style 750 ml. bottles of the sort that lend themselves to red wines. My mind traced over and over the line of numbering and lettering giving the capacity and color of the bottles, staring repetitively back at me from each stacked white carton on the skid, the black bold letters; "750 Smoke". "750 Smoke".

So on this Memorial Day I think it is important to remember a couple of things; first, that no matter how hard you try you cannot escape the past and second that memory can often be a tricky thing and that even pleasant memories are impossible to completely shut out, let alone unpleasant ones. So on this day when we consciously seek to remember the sacrifices made on our behalf by our brave soldiers, let the recollection of their selfless deeds be a spur and prompt us to seek a better future and not a reinforcement of habits causing us to repeat the mistakes of the past. Now where did I hide that lighter again?

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