The Persistence of Memory: September 2021
These days, memories perplex me.
It’s not that I forget them, nor is it time to start investing in Prevagen, but rather that they persist in taking up valuable brain space, much more so than in the past. Thus, I find there is often little room in my over-taxed, pint-size brain to store them all, so they sometimes flood past the gates designed to keep them at bay.
All that it takes to set them off is a simple trigger – a sight, smell or perhaps a sound. Then, like the blocks of a Jenga game, they fall, cascading across the widescreen of my brain which at times confuses and overwhelms me with emotion. How can these memories which are things of the past persist so in the present?
At a recent family gathering I was holding my seven-month-old grand (or is it great?) nephew. While he sat on my lap trying to make sense of this strange man smiling down at him, for an ever-so-brief moment, I saw the face of his mother, my niece, who I also held when she was a child at that age.
That triggered a flood of memories and emotions – that niece is now in her thirties and this is her second child. I looked around at my other nieces and nephews and recalled when they were babies, and now, how they as adults, are no longer the children I used to see dressed as nuns or pirates on Halloween. It confuses me as I realize how quickly all those years passed, far too quickly. I question: “Did I take time to enjoy that moment enough while it was happening?”
As I age, I find that memories are beginning to take on a greater presence in my life. I stopped working two years ago and I no longer feel pressured to actually do anything, so my brain fills in that once busy activity with memories of what I used to do.
This “free time” is both a blessing and a curse. I once had a boss tell me “You really need to stop and smell the roses” and once while I whined to a cousin about how I couldn’t fit everything into 24 hours, she (a recent empty-nester) replied, “Be careful what you wish for bud. You won’t always be so busy and then you may want those hours back.”
At that point in time, I couldn’t imagine what she meant. Throughout my professional career, I was what you would call a “Type AAA” personality and I tore through my days like tissue paper.
All that hustle put me in a good position when it came time to jump off the merry-go-round. Now, two years into “retirement,” I have fond memories of the time of work, but they are just that and never to return. I appreciate that I have them and when I talk to those who still work, I can call upon those experiences for purposes of conversation, they just aren’t mine anymore.
Memories can be tricky as they aren’t always accurate, nor nice. They can be painful and their emergence can feel like a band-aid ripped off a fresh wound. When that happens, I take a calming breath and say to myself, “That’s in the past now and not part of the present.” I quiet my brain and move the needle skipping on my mental record to a new track.
Every now and then, friends who I’ve known since grade or high school (thank goodness for Facebook) will bring up something that happened when we were young. Then, clear as day, everything comes flooding back. It might be the memory of a school dance or one of the many school plays I took part in. I can still smell the hot dogs of a Friday night football game and the taste of fried tacos from a school fiesta. It amazes me how clear and present they seem, like they had only happened yesterday.
And then I find myself sitting there, questioning: Where did those 45 years go? And, what of the next? Will I be sitting here 20 years from now warmed by the thought of the sweet smell of a delicious ahi tuna I had last week?
It’s all o.k. I keep all these memories close at hand and when I need to, I can pull them out of the mental filing cabinet and review them at my leisure like photos in an album. Some are good and some I am fine bypassing, but they none-the-less remind me that they are what makes me who I am today, and for that I feel fortunate.
Perhaps memories are a gift that is given as a reminder of the lives we have all led. Just a thought.
And with that, I end this as “Poolside from PS.”