Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Other brains and my memory

It is easy and normal to think that you know what you can remember.  But your head might not be laid out just the way you think.  Attending my 50th high school and 50th college reunions emphasized for me that some of my memories, or prompts for them, reside in other people's heads.  Classmates from long ago (in human terms, of course) can say something that suddenly zaps my brain with a memory, one that I had no idea I harbored.  

This effect can occur with deliberate attempts, such as "Remember the time that you tried to be the goalie for a kick by Henry Lichtfuss and didn't realize your way of stopping the ball would injure your hand?"  It can occur indirectly as when Sandy writes what she was doing the summer before beginning college.  Her writing makes me reflect on what I was doing then and why.  

Several friends have commented that they might not attend reunions since they don't remember people or might be embarrassed at not recognizing friends from years back in their current, older guises.  I recommend mustering the courage to go since attending can pay off in surprising memories and in surprising stories about events that you trust others to be relating honestly but that you don't remember at all.  I recently learned of "Indians attacking a wagon" in a skit that I have no memory of at all, even though I believe the rememberer knows what she is talking about.

It can be objects that switch on memories as well as people.  I am always surprised at how immediately a photo, sometimes a poor quality picture, immediately puts me back in a time and place when I had no idea that I could so quickly recall the event and tone of the moment. Knick-knacks can do a memory job on me, too.  I just have to ask myself where I got that little brown vase or that little statue of a man and dogsled and I am suddenly the age I was, in the place I was, seeing the sights and feeling the feelings I was.

When I was 25 and 45, I was clear that I myself would not spend as much time as older people I knew discussing bodily difficulties and pains.  Now that I am getting to be older (I think these days that "genuinely older" is probably in one's eighties so I am not there yet), I am definitely interested in hearing about the body and medical experiences of others. Similarly, I thought that living in the present is right and correct but reflection or reminiscence was boring.  Yet, when a former classmate, whom I haven't seen for 50 years, says something that immediately puts me back in a funny memorable moment, it definitely is not boring.

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