Category Archives: memory

One day you will remember…

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“One day you will remember this moment. And it will mean something very different.”

This was a single line extract from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. It’s regarding memories that suddenly slip back in and suddenly flood the moment. As poignant as the sentiment was, it got me thinking, and I realized that the implications of the two sentences were amazingly complex, and a little disconcerting. Each idea tangentially shifts into another, and what I think about keeps splitting off into more and more, so I will try to slice this up with some concision.

Sentence 1) One day you will remember this moment…

There will come a day when I look back on this moment. That alone is amazing. What it says is that the present moment is part of a structure stretching into the future and moving from the past. It may appear to have narrative, because that’s what my mind asserts over the top of day to day events while so many aspects are truly disconnected and disparate (like a dream, where the dreaming brain automatically spins a yarn from whatever strangeness is emptying out of the unconsciousness just to make sense of it). Yet, in my memory of the moment, I will weave a vaguely coherent story to connect it to the rest. Some spiritually minded people would throw even more layers on top, calling the paths of our lives to be determined destiny or fate, or that everything happens for a reason, which might well be true and comforting, but it doesn’t resound with me. I’ve been told too many times that things were supposed to be, only to have them fragment.

memoryThat said, we can accept that despite the disconnected nature of existence, the brain will construct a story to help it make sense, to provide order, and given that my brain is how we perceive the world, then I’ll accept that as explanation.

If the future hasn’t happened, then what I’m experiencing is only a fragment of something larger, a few words in a story that is ongoing. I think that perspective alone lends some degree of comfort, that each moment is not the be-all and end-all. The significance of this moment, and all the rest like it, is not yet known to me, similar to the axiom of ‘one door closes and another opens’. My future self will exert significance I couldn’t even imagine. It’s why I find the term ‘this is a learning experience’ almost amusing and paradoxical, because how much of an experience is going to end up positively stored and utilized seems absolutely out of my control.

Sentence 2) …And it will mean something very different.

Not only will my future self throw some narrative importance over the top of these moments in ways I can’t even fathom, I won’t even remember the moment correctly. Here’s where I risk truly spinning off into a thousand tangents due to being a self-confessed mnemono-maniac , but even just contemplating what any given moment truly is blows my mind. The nature of reality, how we perceive things, our bias, deficiency of awareness or even hyper-awareness of things to obscure others. How narrow our scope of perspective truly is. Ask anyone how they remember a moment and it will never be the same, in any way, and there is no way of knowing which is the more accurate (one of my favorite games is to ask someone how they recollect an experience and marvel how different it was from mine).

polaroidNow, take that memory and throw it across days, months and years. It refines down to a shadow of its former self. The memory is corrupt and changed, moulded around other concepts and ideas, degraded like a repeatedly photocopied image until the flavor of it is completely different.

That alone is… worrying? I’m not sure. Modern neuroscience says that memory is even less of a static thing, that every recollection modifies it, and in fact your memory of an event is simply a regurgitation of the last version you recalled. The very nature of our lives is apparently fluid and changing. Even the externalization of memories in photographs, film and writing is an experiential element prone to our own reinterpretation with every viewing (the best they can do is trigger recollection where memory of the original experience might have simply disappeared).

“One day you will remember this moment. And it will mean something very different.”

If there can be such a thing as a conclusion to this rambling mess of a post, it would be that, to me, together the sentences read as a kind yet sobering reminder not only of the impermanence of our lives and the lessons we take from them, but that forces in our brains, beyond our control, will generate a story of our pasts that we didn’t write, with us acting roles we didn’t plan for with no discernible plot. My reaction to this is one of great concern and fascination, and would certainly make me completely relate to anyone summarizing their existence with the last words of “What the hell just happened?”

“Time and memory are true artists; they remold reality nearer the hearts desire.”
-John Dewey

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