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To all the memories unmade, photos untaken

Nostalgia camera
Coutresy of Sveta Semenenko / Unsplash

With quarantining and all, I suddenly have a lot of time to spend inside my own head. No doubt, in another world, I’d rather spend that time picnicking on Poe Field, studying in the Trustee Reading Room, and drinking Friday night wine in my friend’s dorm. At the end of the day, though, my own head isn’t such a bad place to be. It’s chock-full of the one source of entertainment and comfort no self-isolation can ever take away: memories. 

But memories are more than just sources of entertainment. Looking through a four-year-old journal, I found some instructions from my former self, rooted in the shared liturgy of our generation: think about memories through a scene in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”


As Harry fights to overcome the evil inside him, he finds that through conjuring memories of love and friendship, he can come to see the good in himself. Memories are key tools for our future selves, my journaling self decided — in moments when we are compelled to stray, they keep us grounded; in moments when sadness or loneliness seem insurmountable, they fill the void with light. 

I’ve been thinking about the memories we could have made over the next few months, and what it means for our future selves to live without those memories, those tools. 

I’ll never have the memory of standing before the “HISTORY” sign on Cannon Green on a warm April day, declaring for all the world — or at least my small world — my academic dreams. I won’t remember finishing off my sophomore year as planned: with a big birthday bash, coinciding with Reunions. My first-year friends will never recall the 11 a.m. euphoria and 5 p.m. hangover of their first spring Lawnparties. Some of my student-athlete friends will never play their last season, the last match of the sport into which they poured their souls.

Members of the Great Class of 2024 will never look back at photos of themselves dressed up for prom, and my senior friends will likely never walk across the stage at Commencement — their parents, too, deprived of the proud memory of watching their child graduate.

These memories are ones we were promised, ones we were banking on, and ones our peers, just a year or two older, do bank on — for support, solace, and strength. Now, they’re like Polaroids that got jammed and never came out: we came tantalizingly close to having them, but there’s nothing to be done about the simple fact that we won’t. 

Pause. I know what you’re thinking: all of this is far too overdramatic. People are dying, Marie-Rose. Stop whining about not taking a photo with a banner.


I get it. Mere hours after my arrival home in New York, my mother was diagnosed with coronavirus; I, myself, constantly fear I’m starting to show symptoms. Still, my family is one of the extremely fortunate ones. The loss of a high school prom and a glorified college party fade entirely in comparison to the real and tragic loss this pandemic has wrought, from economic devastation to the deaths of loved ones. 

Yet, I’m frankly tired of friends, memes, and pundits — in a noble effort to check their own and others’ privilege — telling me what I can and cannot grieve. In a global crisis like the one we find ourselves in, there will always be someone whose problems are heavier, more “worthy” of sadness, than your own. The only solution is an all-inclusive one: acknowledging that everyone’s sadness is legitimate, worthy of thought and empathy.

But after all this, I’m still struggling: how can you grieve the loss of a memory unmade or photo untaken — something you never had to begin with? And how can you eventually move on from that grief?

I think back on the Harry Potter scene, and strangely, I’m comforted. The moments he remembers are not big milestone events, like the Yule Ball (let’s say, the Hogwarts equivalent of prom) or his final Quidditch matches. They’re hugging Hermione, laughing with Ron, sharing a wink and a smile with his uncle Sirius. They’re mundane. Honestly, they’re boring. And yet they might just be the most important memories of all. 

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The shining memories we could have had will be replaced with mundane, boring ones. Laughing with a now-long-distance friend over Zoom. Cooking a new recipe with or for a parent. Sharing a tired smile with a sibling. 

I don’t mean this to be a call for hopefulness, per se. Be kind to yourself, and let yourself sit with the loss — I know I am. But when you’re ready, embrace the fact that by virtue of living our daily lives, we’re making new memories. They may not be the ones we planned, but they’re the ones we’ve got. 

If there’s anything I’ve learned from COVID-19, it’s that the future is uncertain. There is no telling what sorts of support, solace, and strength our future selves might need, and there is no telling what sorts of memories, made now, might wind up as the tools they rely on.