Friday, July 31, 2009

Fading memories

I have always taken pride in having a pretty decent memory. I am convinced that I made it through grammar school, junior high, high school and college without doing a great deal of studying because I could rely on my memory when test time came. Because knowledge is closely tied with rote memorization.

I remember odd little details about interactions that other people don't seem to remember. It is a mixed blessing. There are some things in life that it would be better if they slid off the cracker of my synapses.

Now that I am in my 50s however, I find my memory is getting a bit fuzzy around the edges. Part of it is because of the amount of experience you have by the time you reach 50. All of it may be etched somewhere in a brain wrinkle, but sometimes it just takes too much effort to sort through the piles of memory to find.

I am not sure why we remember some things well and others things flit off the radar screen seconds after you experience them. I drive myself crazy sometimes trying to remember if I actually shut the garage door after driving away or left it wide open (something I've never done). Sometimes I actually have to turn around and drive back to confirm that I indeed shut the garage door.

I imagine, however, that we would go mad if we remembered every thing. Our brains would be like the houses of those people who horde things and move about little trails through their living rooms between stacks of newspapers and magazines. There would be so much minutia to sift through that we couldn't ever finish a thought because it would be tucked away in the corner under a pile childhood memories of what you ate at McDonald's for the first time.

Speaking of hoarders, I remember years ago being asked to take photographs of an old transient hotel my agency had purchased and was going to demolish to make way for a construction project. All of the low-income tenants had been relocated. Our real estate people wanted photos of each room for documentation purposes and I was kind of the resident photographer, writer, editor, gopher.

This cranky older right of way agent led me from room to room in the abandoned hotel snapping photos of what until recently been the homes of many disenfranchised people whose next step would have been the street if they hadn't had this sorry shelter to land in. One of the rooms had been occupied by a bonafide hoarder. I was horrified when the agent unlocked the door and I was faced with stacks and stacks of newspapers, flyers, and other scraps of papers. Narrow trails led from room to room. Even the bathtub and toilet were buried in magazines and newspapers. The kitchen was stacked to the ceiling with empty McDonald's coffee cups. I snapped photo after photo. I noted a handwritten note tacked to a door jam. Someone, presumebly the former tenant had written, "God loves you if no one else does." A twinge of saddness hit me. And it dawned on me that whoever this poor tortured soul was who had lived in uninhabitable apartment was, they'd been forced to leave without any of their beloved accumulation of trash. The right of way agent event joked how the person had been pulled away trying to pack stacks of the paper into a suitcase.

But I digress.

And I still wonder why we remember certain things and not others.
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