Just came across this recent post about memory and flood. It refers to the current events in New York, where some parts flooded after extreme rainfall.
The author is prompted by a flood experience to remember previous emergencies, in particular the 9/11 events in New York City. She also writes about the emergency packs that she had prepared after 9/11 — including “a case of gloves, of masks, surgery things, antidotes” — and that were of little help during the flood. Now she’s thinking about what to pack into an updated emergency pack that would help her better deal with flood risk:
When I repack, maybe next week, I’m thinking of putting in different things. Water and food maybe instead of antidotes, and definitely inside of something waterproof. I’ll add a dose of hope, a pencil and a notebook too I think. Because hope is an antidote for fear, writing is a vehicle for creating new stories and for letting go of old myths.
What do you pack in your emergency bag?
Watching the flood waters in her property, J.J. Brown notices that they are all but clean. They are infused with substances from the roof, the sidewalk, the back garden, and perhaps even with traces from faulty city planning and extreme weather. Brown summarizes it in one sentence:
Some of what’s in the water is memory.
This reminded me of Toni Morrison’s famous quote, referring to the Mississippi River, that “all water has a perfect memory:”
They straightened out the Mississippi River in places, to make room for houses and livable acreage. Occasionally the river floods these places … but in fact it is not flooding; it is remembering. … All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was. Writers are like that: remembering where we were, what valley we ran through, what the banks were like, the light that was there and the route back to our original place.
(Toni Morrison, Beloved)
This quote has inspired many other writers, including authors and commentators on the Katrina Poetry blog, Natalia Almada’s short film about loss, memory and forgetting, and Mathur and da Cunha’s book Mississippi floods: designing a shifting landscape.
So, what is it about water and floods that makes us associate them with memories and remembering?