One of my favorite things to teach is Flowers for Algernon. The version in our literature book is severely edited and has been turned into a play (hence the italics around the title), but it's still a good read. There are two things I love most about teaching this. One is that this is the piece where I see a reversal. My Honors students STRUGGLE, while my LRE students excel. They understand Charlie in a way that kids who have never struggled on a homework assignment or on an essay simply can't. But what I really love about this particular unit is that I get to do so many mini-lessons on psychology, and more importantly, on the mind. I have a set of Rorschach inkblots that I use, and we talk a great deal about memories and the mind. I find it absolutely fascinating how people can be coerced into remembering something that never happened, and how there are certain memories that stick with us forever, while others slip away almost as soon as they've happened. And even more interesting, is how memory can be triggered. How a sound, sight, or even a smell can bring long-forgotten (or hoped to have forgotten) memories rushing back, as clear as if they'd just happened.
For example, I worked at Build a Bear four years ago. I cannot remember the names of all of my co-workers, yet I vividly remember two customers. I was at the stuffing station, and it was a mom and her adult daughter. The mom told me she wanted to record a sound in a bear for her daughter. She explained that she had a heart disease, one that meant she could die suddenly at any time, just like that. She wanted her daughter to have something with her voice on it. I took her into the back room, and we spent five minutes recording a lullaby she sung to her daughter when she was a baby. We made it PERFECT. By the time she was done, I had chills. When I did the heart ceremony, I made it special for them. I made them each take a heart, and I came up with ideas specific to their situation, then I had them each kiss a heart and placed both in the bear. It was a slow day, so I was able to walk around the entire store with them. I found angel wings to put on the bear, decorated it with ribbons. By the time they left, I hugged them, and we were all blinking away tears. I still think of them from time to time, and I hope beyond hopes that the mom is still alive.
And then there's labor. I really can't remember what contractions felt like, just that they hurt. I can't remember what pushing felt like, just that I hated it. But I remember with stunning clarity how it felt as his feet slid out of me and his body was fully separated from mine.
But what brought the thoughts of memories was a song that evoked one of those memories that I'd love to forget. The type of memory that is like a knife to the stomach, a crushing kind of memory. All brought about by just a few lyrics, yet in the it took me to fumble my hands to turn the radio off, feeling like the wind was knocked out of me. It is not the song, but rather, what happened as the song was playing that causes those feelings. Still, as much as I'd like to forget it all, I suppose it is the stark pain of those memories that make me realize the good in my life, and the strength within me. Without those memories that cut to the bone, those beautiful memories might not seem so beautiful.