What is it about memory that so intrigues and at the same time can frighten us? I confess that I did not complete the works of Marcel Proust. I did examine the idea of island memories though, those early glimpses of land when adrift on a sea of an unconscious babyhood.
My father held me in one arm and talked into the telephone to my mother. “You can’t have him. I want him with me.” Oddly, I can see the face of my great-grandmother, sitting, pained, watching what she considered to be just another tragedy unfold. She died when I was seven and so I never got to ask her about it, but I did question my mother and father. They were aghast and absolutely sure that neither of them had spoken about it with me. The memory was detailed and intact down to the furniture and its placement, two mice in a trashcan in the bathroom-
The talent for memory is magical but sometimes savage. One can see oneself at the most humiliating times and not be able to shut it out. There is a need to come to understanding, as the idiom says, “…to come to grips with it.”
I remember tripping my great-grandmother when she was old and had difficulty walking. I just did it. I was immediately sorry. She wasn’t hurt, but the malice of that second plagues me. I am told that she died calling for me, but that isn’t a real memory. It’s just something that I was told. The memories of being told something are different from those that we experience in the now.
I remember reaching into a jacket, it was yellow gold. It was a spring jacket that was short and elastic around my hips. I found money that we didn’t know that we had. We went to a movie with that money, my mom and me. I can feel the surge of happiness when I showed the money to her. The excitement at what we did with it.
When you remember something that you are told, it’s different. You remember how you feel at being told that something happened. You remember the face and sometimes can hear the voice of the person that told you, but you don’t relive what you were told.
The talk about memory and computers interests me. I’ve gone and reread emails. I’ve been told that others have transcripts and relive moments that we shared. It isn’t the same. It doesn’t penetrate with the same precise acuity. For me, it does not paint a living portrait but I know that it may for others.
I’ve written books where memory has been the basis of plot and I have marveled at the way that it can shape events into a story. Sometimes I worry that the allure of that process may constrict the possibility of new experiences. It does not extinguish them. I am yet to learn about its constriction. I do not truly get lost in my memories, but I do attempt to use them as vehicles.
And where exactly is it that I choose to travel? Is life susceptible to over-examination? That feels like a myopic state of being. Some people call it narcissism, but is it only narcissism if you envision the world with you at its core and everything else in orbit around you? I don’t see it like that. I don’t feel it that way. I feel the need to understand what I live. Sometimes, the absurd need to make it real.
Two people have told me that they choose to forget. One said it with a smile, the other with denial. I did not find it possible to accept either approach. Maybe the smile was denial. Maybe the act of remembering was the path to … to hope? To where? I don’t know, but I do believe that it is my path.
Memories aren’t chains, they are doors. They are rooms and open spaces. They are unique to us. Sometimes I am called on what I do not remember. I am always embarrassed. People who know me expect me to recall everything and think that those things that I have forgotten were just not important enough to me. Sometimes that is true. Sometimes, I just forget even though it was important. Maybe I forget because it was important. Maybe that’s why my friend smiled when he said, “I forget.”
Forgetting and letting go are not the same. I think that letting go has more value and is adulterated by forgetting.
In the Jane Auel series of books, Neanderthals had a deeper sense of memory than modern people do but their memories defined what they would do all the time. They were incapable of adapting. Living with memory is not an easy existence because it does strive to take over. Incorporation is tricky if you wish to move forward.
Some memories need to be suppressed, at least for a time. People who have survived catastrophe may need to bury it for a while. But how do we bury things? Haven’t we learned that covering them up leads to eventual disclosure? Some choose incineration. Some choose drowning. But others try coexistence.
I think that memory is part of the emotional mind. Is truth impaired by emotional influence or essential to it? Is it both? Is truth baggage? Is it fuel?
Most of what we remember was important to us, but why was it important? Is that not one of the essential questions to allow access of the emotional mind? What creates importance?
How do thought and emotion comingle? Do they make something new or just a picture of something old?
Someone said, “There are things that I just don’t want to remember.” And I wonder if that is not the emotional mind, juvenile and proclaiming that it will hold its breath until it gets what it wants. Or is it just a golden spring jacket, with money in the pocket.?
Remembrance of Things Past seems redundant, doesn’t it? Isn’t remembrance committed to the past?
Maybe a hellish eternity is cold oblivion and so we try to be cuddly or so sharp that a scalpel stands back in admiration. Flesh cuts easy but bone has density and the brain is mercurial. Maybe we just try to make things warmer.
I have a new friend. He says that he remembers every bad thing that has ever happened to him. I wonder if memory sometimes mutes the pain with inculcation. Repetition can heal even if it’s painful. My friend is skeptical and keeps a distance but maintains an air of possibility. We really don’ have anything to remember between us yet but perhaps we are moving closer.