Sunday, April 20, 2008

As Long as I Remember, I've Always had Memories

How much of our lives are built upon our memories?

Memories are what link us to the person we used to be. They make our lives fluid, ever flowing from the past into the present, even into the future. Our legacies are but memories for our descendants to share.

What would life be like without memories? Each day would be as if we were a newborn baby. There would be no experiences for us to build upon.

I remember watching a TV documentary about memory a few years ago. In it, there was a segment about a man who had lost his short-term memory, due to an accident. He could remember people he had met prior to his accident, and all other events of his past. But he could not remember anything that happened since his accident. But it was more than just amnesia. He could not retain any new memory longer than about two minutes. Every moment of his life was as though he were just waking up from a long, dreamless slumber.

Suppose a similar accident happened to a child, who later grew into a man or woman without memories of any kind. How empty this person's life would be. He or she could remember nothing or nobody, nor learn anything new, for it would be gone in a couple of minutes.

Memory is important to us, as humans. It takes the place of instinct. It is no wonder that memory has become the subject of verse, song, and literature. Songs such as "Memory," from the musical "Cats," or "The Way We Were," or "Try to Remember" remind us how important our memories are.

Authors have written volumes on the subject, in every form of literature. Dostoyevsky wrote, "You are told a lot about your education, but some beautiful, sacred memory, preserved since childhood, is perhaps the best education of all." Essayist Susan Sontag wrote, "Everything remembered is dear, endearing, touching, precious." And Scottish poet Alexander Smith wrote, "A man's real possession is his memory."

My earliest memory is when I was three years old. I remember what I got for Christmas that year--two train sets. One was an electric train set from my dad; the other was a wind-up train from my mom. Apparently, they did not consult with each other in advance of purchasing my gifts. I know I was three, because I also remember what my younger brother got for Christmas that year. It was a string of plastic bells meant to stretch across a crib. It was his first Christmas, and since I am two years older than he is, that would have made me three at the time.

I have lots of memories that I recycle in my mind regularly. It helps to keep them fresh.

I try to teach my children how important the memories they are forging today will be to them when they are old. We occasionally watch video home movies that I took of them as they were growing up. I have more than 30 hours of home movies! Sometimes I wonder if the memories my kids have of their younger days are of the actual events, or of the video tape playback.

Memories are much more than just a connection to a past event, however. They are what allows us to see the things we want to see when those things aren't around. British playwright J. M. Barrie once wrote, "God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December." In fact, anything we have ever seen, heard, touched, smelled, or felt, we can experience again in our minds, thanks to that wonderful device called memory.

But just as our muscles will atrophy if they are not used, memories will weaken and die if they are not remembered. Memories can be permanent; they can also be ephemeral. The key to keeping a memory is the frequency of its use.

Comedian Colin Mochrie said, "As long as I can remember, I've always had memories." Bob Hope never forgot to tell us, "Thanks for the Memories." Memory is a truly important commodity. Playwright Tennessee Williams summed memory up best when he wrote, "Life is all memory, except for that one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going."

1 comment:

Daniel Volkovich said...

Interesting thoughts... You may find the book the "Synaptic Self" to be quite interesting. It explores the concept of human identity from several points of view including memory, emotion, and of course the elusive notion of consciousness.