Snow in Madrid
I first heard the poem ‘Snow in Madrid’ whilst watching Shadowlands in Year 8. I don’t remember much of the film itself but I do remember this moment: Joy Davidman, sits in their living room and recites the stanza. It is something she has written in 1937, about the violence of the Spanish Civil War. I found it in a box of my things because at some point I had taken the time to write it down and put it in with other memories; memories that include letters from people I have loved, birthday cards, a small book of creative pieces my mum gifted to me- something of hers from the past- and randomly a purse of Hello Kitty charms collected from all the different locations we visited as family, in Japan, back in 2005.
In this box, I enjoy finding fleeting glimpses into past versions of me- things I have kept to remind of a time when I felt deeply connected to something or someone. I am not a hoarder, I like to get rid of a lot of ‘stuff’ yet I keep some things to not only placate the sentimental part of me but also to have as things to return to when I am feeling reflective or perhaps a little unsure in my present moment. To acknowledge your experiences of life so far is to ground yourself in a reason for being here now.
Of course not all our memories are kept because they are happy. Some things remind us of a time when we experienced more complex and darker feelings- but we can keep them to show ourselves that we can come past those obstacles and learn and grow from them. We have to allow ourselves to remember both the good and the bad- they are equally important in shaping who we are and who we will become.
The nature of our memories is obscure. I found out a couple of years ago, when creating a show about memory, that we actually don’t remember the moment as it happened- we just remember the last time our brain remembered. Does that make sense? So every time we recall, we are seeing and feeling a slightly diluted or altered version of the original. It isn’t that our minds are playing tricks on us, it is just that the data we create will perhaps always be a little bias and perhaps we end up with a fabricated version of the reality. It isn’t really surprising that we would select things to hold on to that help us create an image of ourselves and our lives that we wish to uphold and fulfil. We weave our narratives from the fabric of what has come before but we don’t always stay true to the source. It is almost impossible unless perhaps your memory is photographic. Still not sure how that one works…
And yet, you needn’t be bound to memories. Something about having a memory box allows you to acknowledge a part of yourself and life you have lived, whilst also giving yourself permission to transform and grow to create new memories entirely. It all sounds a bit cheesy- but actually having mementos means you can accept, acknowledge and be mindful, rather than bearing any overwhelming feelings of ‘things were just better then, I wish I could go back’ or ‘I want to forget it all because it was the worst time ever’.
We find traces of our lives all the time- it is an inherent part of life- to keep and savour our memories; to use them as fuel for comfort or as fuel for the fire that makes it possible for us to keep going in this world. You can stumble upon things that never got boxed. I like those moments- caught off guard by something I’ve written down and forgotten about, or perhaps a photograph or even a smell that sends you straight back to a moment in time. Scent memory is probably our strongest space for recollection. If you could bottle scents and present them to people in old age- there is no doubt that it could travel them to places in the mind they have not been in many years. And with the smell comes the emotion of that place, that person, that event. If I could box scents then I would. But maybe it is more poetic that they are in the air, always moving and never fixed, waiting to be caught in passing.
Often I find recollection is like dreaming and try to pull together sensations and colours. I was once asked in a mindfulness class to close my eyes and picture the events of my present life like clouds in the sky, floating by but not impeding on my space or presenting any conundrum in that moment. Just fluffy white clouds in bright blue. Or alternatively imagining being alone in a cinema with the events of your life flicking through silently on the screen. Maybe we can treat our memories in the same way. They are so complex- inside us amongst the 86 billion neurones in our brain (and fun fact, 150,000-180,000 km of synaptic wiring)- that sometimes being able to feel like a separate entity to all the activity in there is quite refreshing and possibly provides us with the space to just be with our experience in a uncomplicated way- no matter how trying or joyful the memory. Maybe that is why I chose a poem to encapsulate a certain feeling or a time in my life, and why it left an impact on me. And perhaps that is why we look to music, art, film, literature and theatre to remind us of our experience of life because actually it provides room for both analysis and escape at the same time.
So returning to my initial thought: my query is, in amongst all the notes of love and farewell cards and posters of shows I performed in, why this particular poem? Especially since it about something I have not experienced; it directly refers to men being the subject and it was honestly just a random day at school when we watched that film. I don’t know what it is like to go to war or what it was like to live in those times but I suppose the words seem to traverse all things and experiences to encompass the burden of living in our ever divided world. It captures a feeling as though time has stood still and all chaos suspends in a single silvery thread of peace. Also, though only men fought in wars back then, a woman’s perspective is crucial as undeniably all humanity is affected by the trauma of these events. And now, of course, women are more directly affected and involved in conflict than ever before; as civilians and in combat. Joy Davidman sees and wishes for a different world. As so many still do. I think perhaps the moment I heard it, I felt transported to the point of reference, as though the words were being spoken for the benefit of every person who had ever lived to experience the harshness of the world and to revel in its beauty, too. There are many more pieces of poetry and literature that I have loved since but this was one was stuck up on my wall for some time before it finally went into the box, as I packed my room away to move out of my childhood home. So, for whatever reason, it has journeyed with me. Here is the piece, in all its complex simplicity.
Snow in Madrid by Joy Davidman:
‘Softly, so casual, Lovely, so light, so light, The cruel sky lets fall Something one does not fight. How tenderly to crown The brutal year The clouds send something down That one need not fear. Men before perishing See with unwounded eye For once a gentle thing Fall from the sky’