Re-membering: Ich lag in Todesbanden
The title is a reflection of a shift in my mindset when I sat down to parse this word. Memory is a reconstructive act, as if each moment detonates on expiration, leaving its several fragments to be gathered from the farthest recesses of our consciousness. It seems plausible – what else so elegantly explains the details about a person, a place, a moment that elude us when recollecting (again a word that smacks of reconstruction)? Might they not be in some particularly dark corner, waiting to be reclaimed?
This cobbling back together, imperfect and incomplete as it is, becomes a sort of mythopoesis – our memories are real, but not in the sense that they reflect our objective reality at a now distant point in time. Rather, they aid us in making sense of our existence and often explain those things about us we would be hard-pressed to account for by other means. I don’t mean to imply that these are their only functions, nor do I flatter myself that I’ve said anything that isn’t widely known. These are merely the breadcrumbs on the trail, a retracing of my steps that is primarily for me – I am, after all, writing a note on Facebook. A measure of self-indulgence is to be expected, no? I’ve been rifling through the files, re-membering crises, triumphs, loves and hates, reacquainting myself with who I think I have been. Here is a body of material that daunts the editor; it is more picaresque than epic. It hangs together only by the loosest of threads, a thicket of blind alleys, stillborn subplots and supernumeraries. Slowly, however, a coherent picture is taking shape. I acknowledge that it may not be a totally accurate one, but it functions as a psychic paperweight, to hold down a dizzying array of loose ends.
The mythic template is Ishtar (and Orpheus) in the underworld. Someone dear to me says often, “Hell doesn’t scare me – I’ve been to Hell,” or some variation thereof. He speaks of being dragged against one’s will to a place of torment and strife; the myth that I’m forming from various shards of reality has a different slant. I chose to enter the darkness in the hope that I could rescue one I loved. Orpheus could not bear the thought of Eurydice confined in that walking oblivion, and I couldn’t abandon my Beloved to the living death. Ishtar, too, chose to descend into the Underworld; at each gate She was forced to surrender something of Her majesty, Her power, Her very life-force and then afflicted with the “sixty miseries.” I can identify with the feeling of being totally stripped and sick unto death as well – the naked Goddess, ill, humiliated and imprisoned is a striking illustration of the point at which you feel you’ve given everything to no avail and are no longer yourself. It’s a moment where you find out who’ll harrow Hell for YOU and that’s always a revealing exercise.
As in every myth, there is a turning point, however. Orpheus’ song persuades Lord Hades to release Eurydice and all is well as he leaves the Land of the Dead – until he looks back as he has been forbidden to and loses her forever. The moment of doubt that unhinges the entire, delicately managed situation… been there too. Looking back is always hazardous in such settings. Unlike Orpheus, I managed to recover what I had lost, and so there the similarity ends. The avatar I choose at this moment is that of the Goddess re-emerging from desolate Irkalla’s seven gates. At each one the symbols of glory and might are restored to Her, ending with the crown on Her head. That’s where I am now – walking back into the light, a little sadder, a little wiser, but none the worse for wear.