Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn

TC the Cat’s comment on my last blog post deserves a longer reply, so here goes.

In this digital age, precise, virtual memories are increasingly becoming possible. On NPR, I’ve heard some suggest that this is one of the values of blogging and other forms of digital archiving. But I’ve heard others argue that “accurate” memories are not what’s important. If we remember an event in a certain way, which then has a certain affect on our life, isn’t that what’s really important? While in theory, as in science, we could/should revise our conclusions when new, contradictory data becomes available, does this apply to people and our past memories?

Agreed, in more ways than one. Obviously the “feel” of what we believe to be true bears more weight than what actually happens in the way we tend to apprehend the world around us. The comparison to science seems particularly apt here, given how often such data comes to our attention. “The Decline Effect” by Jonah Lehrer was an interesting New Yorker article discussing how even some widely and strongly held scientific theories and observances have become increasingly difficult to replicate, which raises some mild questions about the validity of the scientific method in some situations, but makes me think more of the Observer effect.

The act of observation changes the observed not just in physics, in my mind. Would it not be even more likely that the act of reflecting upon our pasts, given our newer experiences and ideas and beliefs would change not only how we view what we remember but our memories themselves? One need only ask my brother which of us knocked a friend over with a slapshot in street hockey when we were kids to recognize that two different people can come away from a single event with two wildly different perceptions, ones that they each believe quite, quite strongly are true. Victims of trauma very often believe so strongly in repressing such events that they can block them out entirely from conscious memory, often with severe side effects, but nigh-completely nonetheless. We cannot help but shape the past to suit our present. The “winner” will always write our personal histories.

So I take it as a matter of faith that my memories of my father, should they still exist now, would not necessarily be true to the reality of those times. But I remember nearly nothing (much like the victims of trauma mentioned above). It is as if he is gone from conscious memory: the ONLY connections I make to him are the subconscious and sweetly melancholy ones found in music or books or sports or the like. Is that to say that my memory is thereby somehow more deficient than that of another person who has lost a parent, at whatever age? No. It is likely that my father would have become more idealized, more idyllic, more golden in my own estimation of him as he has undoubtedly become in others.

At the same time, that does not obviate the need, the wishing to know him as he truly was. The expectation itself may be foolish, but as a member of the internet generation I have become obsessed with accuracy and fact-finding. Truth (of a sort, since I recognize just how many “truths” there are out on the internet) is at one’s fingertips, and a comment or belief or video or picture from decades ago can still be found, pristine and pure and untouched by time, in the cloud that is looking to retain and capture ALL of our experiences. There is danger in that, but also relief and peace. Memory means something different to myself and to many others now than I believe it once did. I can recognize the foolishness yet forgive the fault of wishing it was more perfect than it ever can be.

 

PS: Bonus points to anyone who can recognize the reference in the title of this post without resorting to Google.

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