The Nature Of Memory

By Michael Miller

Memory is a wonderful thing I suppose. Wasted I dare say on the youth, treated as though it were not of very great value. I reckon that’s accurate in most ways, much like anything else in life right down to the most innocuous of objects, their perceived value must increase with time. Cheap wines, moldy cheese, old furniture, the value must ripen with age before the true worth is revealed and appreciated.

Memories, like tactile objects must ripen as well. Sadly treasures of the mind suffer far greater indignities than articles of a more tangible nature. We seem to color our memories to suit our taste, not in a futile effort to lie, far from it. But maybe an attempt to comfort ourselves in our later years. Nurse injured and bruised egos, our psyche binds these wounds as we would a bruise or broken bone. We the owners, are the only persons to know the severity or perhaps even the simplicity of the injury hidden beneath the volumes of bandage and gauze.

As with all things, each time the story of the bound wound is shared to family friends and strangers, we inadvertently add to the tale oh so slightly. So slightly as not to be noticed even by ourselves.  Soon we stand looking at ourselves in the mirror in wonder, awe, and fear. We can’t help but notice the massive binding, only to realize how through the countless retelling, the injury has grown, taken upon its-self a life of its own, completely autonomous of the host. We the owners are simply along for the ride. Soon we ourselves become the victim, unable or in some instances unwilling to remember the severity of, or lack there-of, what lies hidden beneath the wrappings.

Here slumbers the memories of a life. With each telling we subtly add to the story, building with each brick to make the beast worth retelling, upping the stakes as each hand is played. Wide eyed listeners wonder at tales of bravery, sacrifice and honor. ( When I was a kid we used to walk five miles in the snow to school, up-hill both ways). Ever hear that one? Even the teller absorbs completely into the telling, subconsciously puffing our egos and reeling in a subdued pride. We ourselves fall completely under the spell, victims of a sort and privately think more of our selves for the effort.

Don’t think me a antagonist, far from it. Nor do I attempt to devalue such memories. These are needed I believe. As much as the victories begin to take on a life of their own, things such as fanfare, bravery and strength of character, so do our many failings. Our perceived shortfalls and regrets draw breath, massive dark hearts pump guilt through our memories and soar as well. Covering our mind in with a monstrous shadow, leaving the good to wither in the darkness. You see, we add to these as well, just as our minds build the pleasant brick by brick into gigantic structures of pride. So we build and add to the sorrows of the past.

A response is required, a response as mighty as the beast that threatens mental destruction. We counter-attack, to retain a sane mind, the scales must at all times balance. Pushing the dark to the recesses, the cracks crevices and cupboards of our past, overcoming the dark with light. Enter stage right, the warm stories.

At some point; it’s different for every individual. We live to a point when life stops giving us things, only to begin taking those very things away. For me, there was no warning or alarm, no call to arms. I didn’t wake one morning and find I was less of a soul than the previous evening. For me the draining slowly soaked in, much like the slow leaking of a warm bath. Only when a sufficient amount of myself had mysteriously vanished did I realize to my terror, there was less of me here. To further add to my shock; I had no idea where that part of me had gone. It just simply ceased to…be.

Small when it first came to my attention; very small to be brutally honest, but the immense importance of such a miniature piece startled me. A tiny cog suddenly vanishing from an incredibly complex machine. A cog rather innocuous on its own, but the very absence of such a tiny piece had in effect rendered the machine as a whole, less of its-self. Try as I might; I could not recall or picture the missing piece, what it looked like, what purpose it served. I wasn’t even sure where it had formally been located. I was utterly unable to recall the space it once occupied with-in the machine. I had lost some of my “muchness”, just as if it had never existed. What I did know for certain was that I felt its absence, the vacuum was small but perceivable. I knew part of me had mysteriously vanished, and in my uncertainty I mourned my friend’s passing. One less brick in my grand structure.

We feel at times, unwitting participants in a rather macabre race. Desperate to preserve that which we believe separates us from “lower” creatures as uniquely human. Who we are as a person if you must. A desperate battle against the  cruelty of age, all the while time mercilessly claws the mortar from the bricks of our memories. As I said, life now demands from us more than it provides.

I am embarrassed to admit; I’ve come to doubt the validity of my memories of late. Some-where amidst the constant rounds of chemotherapy and radiation some have faded, shadows of what they once were. Not that I think them to be mere fantasies, oh no. Nothing could be further from the truth. But I have come to accept them as defense mechanisms formed around the truth. Modified if you will, to lift my mood and improve my self-image. With time they have become legends in my mind, and as with all legends worthy of the telling, require just a small amount of seasoning.

They are now in my not so humble opinion; liken to a fine wine. Age and the fingerprint of years has come to rest upon the container, leaving the glass dull and smudged, the label faded and redolent of age. But the prize, the substance within, that which truly matters has ripened with age, acquired a life of its own. Full of complex notes and impossible to describe in depth of character.

These are memories; not wholly accurate musings one would hear in a court of law. But poems and epochs, legends and fantasies, worthy of being transferred to younger minds yearning to continue. The torch is passed down, the flame must stay alight as it is carried through future generations.

Yes my friend; these are memories, imperfect with-out doubt, yet with-in them they possess a beauty uniquely their own. Gifts from our dusty silver haired selves. Drink them up oh ye of younger years. Drink them up and pass them on, life is ever presently assaulting our ever-aging minds, chipping at our mortar, stealing them from us with ever increasing fervor, never to be remembered again. Pass them on in spoken word or printed page, our legacy, your very future, depends on them.

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