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Without Our Memory, We Don’t Really Exist

Without Our Memory, We Don’t Really Exist Posted on September 25, 2023

I brush my teeth with my right hand. I eat with my right hand. I shave with my right hand. I am considering writing with my right hand and I am left-handed.

In Buddhism, part of the belief system centers around the precept of the present. They speak about being in the moment, focusing on the present, being present. The present is all there is since the future hasn’t come and the past has been left behind.

In the movie Momento, the protagonist has no long-term memory due to an accident but knows his wife was killed. His entire existence is focused on finding who took his wife from him. The only way he can remember the facts he finds is to tattoo them on his body (presumably he couldn’t remember where he put that piece of paper he’d written them on and at some point came up with another…erm…option) and continually he is piecing his life’s narrative together, reviewing the tattoos all over his body, to tease out the next clue that might lead him to the killer.

I am not certain that those who speak of living in the moment literally mean from the perspective of one’s own timeline. I believe it’s more about enjoying each moment as fully as the human mind, body, and spirit can. Savoring each passing minute or hour and each sensory experience. Because once they pass, they are gone. It’s been spoken about enough that it is almost cliché, and of course, the marketers have beaten it to death.

But suppose, like the character in Momento, you didn’t have the choice? What if memories were fading on their own and you couldn’t stop that process? What if you really started to lose your memory? How would it feel? What would that be like? Would you notice?

I am afraid of very little. But someone close to me has Alzheimer’s Disease and as I watch her slowly fade, it hurts to the core and frightens the daylights out of me that a beast looms just around the corner for me, as well. I may never get it. But there’s a chance. A better chance for me, I guess. As with anything I see others go through, I very much want to understand what they are experiencing. How it feels. So I understand them better. Like knowing a room in the house, so when you call while away, you can picture where the person you’re talking to is sitting. She doesn’t know what’s happening and if I bring it up, the conversation is soon gone. The lasting long-term memories become like books on a shelf. Not really memories, just finite vignettes of what once was because they are no longer connected to what is happening now nor any of the memories around them.

I watch as she covers for her lapses wondering if it’s some primordial survival mechanism. An artifact from long ago that was once needed to prevent predators from seeing the vulnerability. I imagine it’s a similar experience to when you’re sleeping and someone calls or comes into the room. Often the immediate instinct is to say “No, it’s OK, I wasn’t sleeping” and I have always thought that a little strange – even though I have done that myself. I have pondered if it’s indeed an instinctual reaction…you know, “never let them see you sweat.”

There is a certain innocence to being with someone who can’t remember things from one moment to the next. The focus, by nature, becomes the present because that’s what seems more readily handled, it’s real and there. But that too begins to get sliced up and disjointed. Like little time-lettes that aren’t connected or if they are by only the slightest of gossamer threads. Easily broken.

As the conversation expands beyond the present a little, every so often the confusion descends. It’s almost a thing you can see. A shadow cast by a high cloud or that darkening of a room as a nearby cloud covers only part of the sun. I watch as her personality slowly fades and changes. It’s heartbreaking.

So I care, respect, and honor. Regardless of anyone’s infirmities they are still human and deserve all the respect due to that station.

But too, I worry. The worry steals over me as I travel back here to Colorado. Will I be next? Could this also happen to me? What will it feel like? Will it feel like anything at all? I am not filled with overwhelming dread. Just a curious wonder that has one edge that’s a little darker than the rest. An edge you see but can’t really fully make out. And as I read, everything I find out about that could prevent me from getting Alzheimer’s (true or not) I try. To bring light to that darker edge. Knowing for sure that monsters are there is often better than not knowing but thinking there might be. Our minds are our own worst enemy sometimes.

So I exercise for all I’m worth. I take EFA’s and vitamins. I eat well and cleanly. I see my doctor regularly and get things sorted if need be. I read voraciously, I am constantly learning, I am studying a foreign language, and I brush my teeth with my right hand. I eat with my right hand. I shave with my right hand. I am learning to write with my right hand and I am left-handed.

Golden, CO

Photo by Alex Dukhanov