Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Memory Spirals and the Heart

Dr. Seuss's "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish," is on the wall of the doctor's office. Ava is 10. But my memory spirals back to when she was a baby. She might have had a heart murmur, but we needed more tests. We were sitting in a heart specialist's in Annapolis. I was reading to her, a book off the shelf in the waiting room. "One Fish, Two Fish." Ten years later, sitting in the doctor's office with Ava, I in both places. Wrapped in a memory spiral.

Over the past year, I have driven or run by this lane almost everyday. Didn't give it much thought. Until a few weeks ago, on a run, I remembered standing on the lane, outside a Ford Fiesta, listening to Led Zeppelin IV all the way through for the first time. I was 15. I came to Zeppelin via Black Sabbath, Ozzy, and Iron Maiden, leading to Bad Brains, the Clash and Metallica. Zeppelin wasn't heavy enough. Until I sat and listened to IV, "Black Dog," "When the Levee Breaks," "Misty Mountain Hop." Running past, my memory spiraled; I heard Zeppelin over the Damian Marley that was in my headphones.

Cormac McCarthy wrote that, "Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real." Brick columns and Dr. Seuss drawings can leave mental scars, that bring our personal past spiraling back.

The thing about memory though, is that it can fade or change over time. How much does it connect or correspond to our actual past?

"You know what I think?" she says. "That people's memories are maybe the fuel they burn to stay alive. Whether those memories have any actual importance or not, it doesn't matter as far as the maintenance of life is concerned. They're all just fuel. Advertising fillers in the newspaper, philosophy books, dirty pictures in a magazine, a bundle of ten-thousand-yen-bills: when you feed 'em to the fire, they're all just paper... It's the exact same thing. Important memories, not-so-important memories, totally useless memories: there's no distinction--they're all just fuel." - Haruki Murakami

I have a hard time with that one. Not all memories are created equally. Some memories make us more who we are than others memories. Remembering the first time my 13-year-old daughter looked in the direction of my voice as a baby is more a part of me than where I first heard Zeppelin IV. I recall one far more than the other. These two memories reside in different parts of me: one stamped somewhere on the brain, the other imprinted deeply on my soul.

Memory distorts. The details we retain are ours and they are subjective, the parts that are important to us. Tennessee Williams knows why:

The scene is memory and is therefore nonrealistic. Memory takes a lot of poetic license. It omits some details; others are exaggerated, according to the emotional value of the articles it touches, for memory is seated predominantly in the heart.

Truth matters to me. I hang my hat on facts. The philosopher in me climbs toward objectivity. But at the end of the day, I don't mind the notion that memory lives closer to the heart. Cue the Rush song. A life lived closer to the heart is a life lived.

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