Thursday, December 22, 2011
It has been six days since my doctor declared me cancer-free, and my, how quickly one forgets… Which, I suppose, is a blessing. If we could remember every fear, every scrape and scratch and anguish, we’d most likely never get out of bed. The body does not remember pain—that’s why women are willing to bear more than one child—and the mind, generally in a short while, forgets abuse as well, or for most of us compartmentalizes it in such a clever manner that we overlook memories of pain. We have a vague remembrance of discomfort, we recollect that an event was difficult, but we cannot bring up the actual distress in all its glory.
Nietzsche waxed at length on this concept, albeit tying it to morality rather than pain. “I have done that, says my memory; I cannot have done that says my pride and remains adamant. At last, memory yields.” Our memory yields constantly to convenience and expediency. It is fully malleable, capable of being influenced long after the fact, opportunistic and amoral.
I’ve always been fascinated by memory. Why can we recall faces but not names? Why and how do we remember certain events and forget others, how can we remember numbers and addresses for only the necessary minutes before writing them down, why are memories of childhood often more vivid than those of yesterday’s events? When my father was succumbing to the cruelties of Alzheimer’s Disease, he once started sobbing about a baby burning and remained inconsolable for hours. It took me almost a week of gentle probing to understand that he was remembering the death of his younger brother in London, killed in 1944 by a German V 2 rocket that destroyed the family house. That had happened 60 years earlier. But ask my father what he’d had for lunch that day and he would draw a blank.
Me, I have scars that are barely visible, and the pain of which I can’t recall, other than it was serious—a phosphorus burn on my left foot, the cicatrix left by motorcycle wrecks, a half-moon mark on the middle finger of my right hand, the result of an inadvertent moment while working with a router.
More recently, the pain associated with the healing from two operations is still fresh in my mind, but it’s waning. I remember that it made me stand on tip toes and hold my breath as it rolled over me. On a few occasions it made me cry. This was barely a week ago. I imagine that in a month or so all that will be left is an intellectual memory. Which I suppose is good, as I wouldn’t want to be lugging all that luggage around. So maybe that’s a good comparison. We only have a carry-on’s worth of physical memories at once, something we can stuff under the seat or overhead when we travel our personal paths.
It could be worse….