There will be things you do want to remember and other you would like, or that you will need, to forget. ~Carlos Fuentes
Who remembers exactly the order of a conversation, who knows exactly if the words in memory were really said or only thought, imagined, spoken under the breath? – Carlos Fuentes
I stand at the gravesite staring at the rose-covered casket holding the earthly remains of my uncle Nick “The Greek”. The military honor guard stands at straight-backed attention, arms cocked precisely at 45 degrees, elbows steady above the shoulder, hands raised just brushing the brim of their dress caps holding a prolonged salute. The bugler breathes into his horn and the first silky note of taps floats into the overcast sky drawing gentle tears from the clouds, drawing gentle tears from those of us paying our last respects.
Those first notes, “Day is done, gone the sun…”, evokes the painful memory of my dad, the first of our elders to pass. It was played at his funeral, played as the pallbearers slid his casket into the hearse before he was taken to the pyre where his body would be consumed by flames and poured into a golden urn. Those first notes changed my gentle tears into rolling sobs for these larger than life men from my family. Images of my life with them broke free from deep memory to dwell instantaneously in my mind’s eye before fading back into the depths to lie dormant, frozen until again thawed by the flutter of an eyelash, a warm breath, the smell of the pine forest on a cold northern lake in Central Canada, the opening notes of a rarely heard song.
Our memories hold not just images but are vessels containing every emotion in the spectrum from euphoria to sorrow, from hope to fear, from pride to embarrassment, from love to hate. My own memories seem to bend toward what is considered the positive end of the emotional spectrum. I seem to more frequently remember the happy times than the sad. For that, I am grateful because it helps to promote a positive outlook on life. Or, maybe, it’s my positive outlook that ensures most of my memories are on the happy end of the sad to happy continuum. Chicken or egg?
If not thawed by a stimulus such as a photograph, are memories destined to lie forever frozen, perhaps forever forgotten? Does our brain have limited capacity to remember events? If so, what determines which live on and which perish? Without something to tickle the buried memories, would most lie deep in the muck never to be dredged up for remembering? Would they be lost as if the events never occurred? Without a stimulus, would those memories remain deep frozen in my brain never to be thawed?
Memories are like pictures. Well, they are for me. I remember in visual snapshots. Almost never a movie, occasionally in consecutive images, mostly always a single frame in the movie reel. What happens to the other images in the reel? Are they waiting to be tickled to life or have they been replaced or have they disintegrated or did they never implant in the long term memory sections of the brain?
Many of my mental images are faded, damaged, scratched, ripped, torn, and, I imagine, morphed into completely different memories. I have experienced this phenomenon numerous times when talking to someone about a mutual even and we have vastly different recollections. Morphing may be the worst because it means the memory I have is of an event that never took place. And if that’s the case, how can I be sure any of the events my subconscious really took place. Are they just fantasies created to give some semblance of meaning to my life?
To combat possible memory loss, I take pictures, lots of pictures and store them on my computer. They are my screen saver. Before it goes to sleep, my computer flashes images on my screen in random procession, a marching of single, disparate pictures each containing an entire story. Some say time travel is impossible yet I experience it with each image that flashes across the screen.
The beauty of taking a picture is that there is physical evidence that an event took place. Each image contains many memories an entire story, a step back in time to the moment I took the picture. I remember the place, on a rare occasion the smells. I don’t typically remember in smells but smells trigger deep memories. Mostly the memories trigger emotions of the instant I pressed the camera button and captured a moment of my personal history for eternity, at least, for the eternity of the many disk drives I use to create redundant backups of these precious jewels.
Many a night, after posting photos and a brief story of that photo to my Photography blog, I trigger the screen saver, sit back and let the frozen memories wash over me. I sit there and reminisce, if only for an instant, the many events which, when put together, document my personal history.