This week, I returned to the theatre. In a last-minute decision, I joined my sister for an unusual night in London. I had forgotten how much I love the theatre. Courtesy of Covid, it had been 2 years! Each time I go, I think I should go more often. Especially plays like this – with a priceless ability to make you laugh, think and shed a few tears. It got me thinking about memory a lot. As someone who struggles with memory, I am curious about how it works. How we store our memories, how we remember them and why we lose them.
Memory of Water
Until I watched this play, water for me was a synonym of washing memories away. Like shedding tears and letting time go over wounds. Like the coming and going of waves that takes worries away at the shore. Like a cleansing shower when the head is blur and it is dark around you. Water for me, was a good analogy how in life so much gets washed away. Funny enough, waves come and go and some things are never washed away. Like a lost wedding ring found a year later on the same shore. What determines what stays and what goes?
However, as discovered there, water is one of the few substances that does not lose its own memory no matter how many times you try to dilute it. Scientist says. Some of its marks never go away. Is that the same with parts of us?
I am obsessed with building memories. It’s something I haven’t quite come to explain. But for a few years now, my focus is on memories. Specially with my children. Perhaps a desperate attempt to ensure they remember something of their lives growing up that warms their heart later in life. So I spend my time them actively doing something – doing Legos, baking a cake, going to the beach, visiting places, planning activities together all around where we can engage. I mean, this weekend we are going out for the weekend and we have definitely booked ahead our family activities (in a way I probably wouldn’t without this obsession). But I also care about the day to day, the school pick up I never do, the arriving home, the small moments. I obsess about them all. I don’t even try to hide it.
You see, I don’t remember a ton of things from my childhood. Or at least I feel like I don’t remember. I don’t remember the day to day. I mean, I know where I lived, where I went to school and all that. But I don’t remember how it felt. And I don’t remember a ton if I am honest with myself. And it is not just my childhood. In fact, I have found gaps in my memory in the last few years as well. I used to blame it on baby brains but in fact I can’t use that excuse anymore. It is long gone as Baby S quickly approaches 5.
Just last week we were driving from a birthday party and Hubby B started describing a house we had seen on that street. In excruciating detail he told the kids about it and where it was. He looked for me to contribute but only found a blank face. I was honest:
“I could lie to you, but I honestly have no idea of ever being here before”
What are memories
It’s not like I have no memories. I do, a ton of them. But I have trouble accessing them. Some of the more historical ones I slowly started accessing as my therapy took me down a path of revisiting some of my long term history. I am not quite sure I enjoyed that but in all honesty that is what made me realize it is very difficult for me to remember. And I wonder, is it because it has been a long time? Because I hear stories everywhere of people remembering so much. And so easily.
Ok, so when I make an effort to describe a time or place, slowly but (un)surely I get there. It’s like I store memories in a place they are not accessible. So are memories always there or do we need to constantly work on it to ensure they stay within our reach? I know there are all the theories around memory games and so on that are meant to keep our brains active and improve cognitive abilities. Does that apply to emotional memories? Because those are the ones I wonder about.
What about the play
I know I started off by saying I went to this play. Why did the play got me rumbling about memory then? In the play, 3 women get together for their mother’s funeral. Each deals with it in very different ways, essentially affected by the memories they hold. Or that they believe they do not have. As events come to the surface, there are also circumstances where they all remember the story in a different away, with someone recreating it to fit their own life. To top it up, the ghost of the mother makes a few appearances as well to bring some more memories to the surface.
It made me wonder if I remembered the same things as my sister. Or even my mother and father. Is our view of factual events the same? I am certain we all feel differently about the same event even as it happens, but time alters everything, right? So as time goes the perception of events evolves. Isn’t that what memory is?
The loss of memory
Loss of memory frightens me terribly. As a believer in a life well lived and less on the things I have, I must admit a life without memories is a scary thought. Perhaps because I already feel like I don’t remember so much.
After reading Why We Sleep, this was definitely a key incentive for me to start getting more sleep. Once I found out how much damage I had been doing to my memory with my constant years of under-sleeping, I took a turn and prioritized it over most things in my life. I am not talking long sleeps (and I haven’t taken napping yet), but I am talking about improving my average night of sleep from just over 6 hours to a 7+ in the last 1-2 years. It was no small feat, and as I see the benefits, I keep pushing the bar higher. There are a whole other set of benefits associated with more sleep, but no doubt memory (and my immune system) were key for my mindset change from my old moto “Sleeping just takes too much time”.
When the mother in the play died, she was suffering from Alzheimer. An illness that affects and scares many. In a deep description she depicts how it feels to make no sense of things, and then to suddenly find herself again. The constant navigation between a life without memories and knowing who you are. And I wonder. What are memories? Are they like water?