UserpicThe Chautauqua Lecture 6

The next memory is a memory frozen in time, in the form of a photograph. The most important thing about this memory is not what it contains but what it does not.


This photograph was taken at Inchydoney beach, in County Cork, Ireland. On the back, some forgotten hand tells me that it is February 1998. It’s an unusual photograph. Shadows are something you don’t very often see in Ireland, certainly not in February. Shadows need sun. I lived there for more than five years, and I swear it rained every single day.

I love this frozen memory for so many reasons. To begin with, you get a good idea of the size and power of Brenin. He would have been around seven and a half years old, when this photograph was taken. Nina was roughly eighteen months old at this time, grown to full size, and significantly larger than most female German shepherds or malamutes. As you can see, Brenin dwarfs her. He was probably a little heavy, and the lean and clean angularity of his youth had considerably softened. I’ve found out that middle age tends to do that to you.

I love this frozen memory also because it provides a useful antidote to a certain – dominant – way of thinking about happiness. We tend to think of happiness as an inner state or process: something that occurs on the inside – in here. If another person is happy, that is not something we can see or know, but only infer or guess. But in this picture, you can – at least I can – see the happiness of these two friends. I don’t think happiness is necessarily an inner process at all. I like to think of it more as a field through which we can, if we are lucky, walk or run. I am trading on the on the ambiguity of the word ‘field’. There are Irish fields of barley, and French fields of lavender; and Brenin and Nina would run through many of these. But there are also magnetic fields and gravitational fields. The happiness of these animals radiates out from them; it reverberates across the open space – the clearing between us. I am immersed in a field of happiness; surrounded by it, embraced by it. Happiness warms me from the outside in, not the inside out.

But for the purposes of this evening’s talk, the most important thing about this frozen memory is not what is in it but what is not – what is absent and yet still present.


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