In my memoir, Surviving Ben's Suicide, I wrote about the importance of memory in our lives. Recently, I've been re-reading several of the works by one of my favorite anthropologists, Keith Basso. Basso has studied and written about the Western Apache for about fifty years. One of his most remarkable findings is how tied the Apache are to place and memories. When Apaches talk about their landscape, they evoke memories and use language about the past. To them, the past is a well-worn path, which their ancestors first travelled. Notably, in their perception, the well-worn path is also the past.
The names of places along the way were given by ancestors, who named them for events that occurred there. Regardless of how the physical landscape changed over time, the names of places would remain, serving as a spiritual and emotional connection between the Apaches of today and their deceased. For the Apaches, life and memories are inseparable. Interestingly, Basso is the son of a novelist. Not only is he a beautiful writer, but I wonder if he was inspired by his father's writing to look for minute and everyday patterns in people's behavior that symbolized something great.
Basso's findings on the Western Apache remind me that I can live a more spiritually fulfilled life, if I allow memories of the past to enter my mind and my language.