Tag Archives: memory

Tears in rain

Memory is a curious thing.  It is not the same trait as intellect; many of the world’s smartest people can’t remember where they left their car keys.  The most frustrating aspect of memory for those of us who don’t have the gift – apart from the headaches it causes those who live with us – is the failure of our brains to act like reliable nth-terabyte hard drives from which we can instantly access any desired thought as simply as double-clicking a mouse.  This can be particularly intimidating when attempting to participate in a conversation where your friends are sharing detailed recollections of events that happened twenty, thirty years ago, recounting every sound, every smell, every syllable of dialogue.  You feel lesser somehow.  Incomplete.  As we grow older, and friends and family fall away either through distance or the tragedy of passing, the reserves from which we can draw the history of our lives begin to dry up.  Without a reliable memory to keep the flame alight, it can lead you to feel like a part of you is missing – that like in Blade Runner, it has been “lost in time, like tears in rain.”  I’m envious of those who have had the foresight to keep diaries from a young age.  Like saving for retirement, there are innumerable advantages to starting sooner rather than later.  (If only there had been a version of WordPress for my old Commodore VIC-20.)

It’s been said that an unexamined life is not worth living, and how else can we examine that life without our memories to draw upon?  At the same time, one is forced to ask whether the sum worth of a person’s existence is the breadth of the memory he carries, or the impact he has left on the outside world – in a sense, the memories others have of him.  We must each arrive at a point in our histories where we question whether we have done enough with the life we have been given, if we have experienced, tasted enough of the richness that is our universe.  What is it about our memories that makes us walk taller than the others who share the street with us?  Are memories truly the building blocks – the only building blocks – of the soul?  The end of Blade Runner is one of the most poetic expressions of this question.  Nearing the last minutes of his four-year lifespan, the replicant Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) engages in a cat-and-mouse chase with Deckard (Harrison Ford), the man assigned to hunt him down and kill him.  As Deckard is about to fall to his death from the side of a building, Batty unexpectedly reaches out and saves his life.  Sitting quietly together with his adversary as his final seconds tick down, Batty recounts some of the wonders he has seen and mourns their passing.  Up to this point the entire film has posed the question of what it is to have a soul, whether or not it matters if the components of that soul are electronic or organic.  The replicants – the androids – show empathy for one another, feel fear, anger and sadness, while the humans are cold, relentless killers:  Deckard at one point shoots an unarmed female replicant in the back twice as she flees half-naked through the streets.  Batty’s final act of pure compassion toward the man who was sent to destroy him seems to suggest – notwithstanding his lament for his lost memories – that the soul is found in the actions, not the recollections.  Not what we bring to the game of life, but how we play it.  Perhaps that explains Batty’s wry smile as he whispers “Time to die” and his head sinks in the silence of the falling rain.

Whether we remember them or not, our memories have played a part in shaping our evolution as people, directing our choices based on past experience, the recollection of what works and what doesn’t.  But they are not the definition of who we are.  We exist in four dimensions and our future actions are as important to the overall portrait of us as what we have done in every second of existence leading to this point.  The key difference is that the future is still under our control, the way our pasts and our memories never will be.  We can choose to remember things a certain way, but that does not change how they happened.  Each new moment brings with it limitless opportunity to forge a new and bolder path, to create a lasting legacy – a complete soul – whose every minute detail you won’t need to remember, because the evidence of it will be all around you wherever you go.  Never to be lost like tears in rain.

Graham’s Quackers

I still have my first teddy bear.  He is an auburn koala named Ozzy, and while his original ribbon is long-gone and his snow-white tummy has greyed over nearly four decades, he’s still in huggable shape.  There’s a picture of him in his youth watching over me as I sleep in my crib, with the same peaceful expression stitched on his face.  A few of his friends are still around too – a wobbly dark brown bear who used to play “Rock-A-Bye-Baby,” and a squeaky little critter who is best described as resembling an open-faced grilled cheese sandwich.  Wherever I have gone, in the umpteen different places I have lived, these guys have tagged along, managing to escape the grisly landfill fate that is seemingly the destiny for many stuffed friends who have outlasted the childhood of their owners.  To my better half’s occasional chagrin, I have always had a soft spot – pardon the excruciating pun – for stuffed animals.  No matter how stressed one gets throughout the rigours of life, a glance from one of these inanimate, insufferably cute critters always seems to say “hey, it’s okay.  You’ll be fine.”

One of our favourites is a duck named Quackers.  He’s a beanie baby who came from my sister’s collection and somehow not only ended up with me, but survived a garage sale purge of dozens of his brethren along with his companion, a swan named Gracie.  Normally they sit together in our closet, but on occasion, Quackers likes to go roaming.  You’ll be selecting a shirt to iron for tomorrow when you’ll notice abruptly that Gracie is alone and bereft.  Quackers can turn up anywhere – hiding under the bed covers, lurking on top of an open door, nestling among socks, shivering in the refrigerator, tumbling in the dryer, surfing the net or even, on holiday occasions, perched in the Christmas tree.  The better half protests innocence in the matter of Quackers’ frequent sojourns – indeed it often seems that this yellow mallard has a mind of his own.  Discovering his latest hiding place never fails to draw out a grin, regardless of the foulness (or is that fowl-ness?) of one’s mood.  He is one sneaky little ducky, full of personality – though he never says a word, and the rational adult in me knows he was designed, stitched together and stuffed in an overseas factory along with thousands of identical cousins, and that he is nothing more than an amalgamation of cotton and polyester.  We have a natural tendency to imbue animals, whether real, animated or stuffed, with human traits, and are inclined to respond protectively and with love to things that are innocent and helpless – the latter remains the highlight of our capacity for nobility as human beings.

Corinthians has a famous verse about growing older and putting away childish things.  There is a difference though, in what is childish and what is childlike.  It’s important to hold onto the best traits of youth throughout life – honesty, excitement, creativity, imagination and wonder at the miraculous.  These are often best embodied by the toys we treasured in the days when we knew nothing of money, politics or the cruelty of history.  They are forever unchanging, locked into that part of our lives we sometimes wish we could recapture but remains, like memory and time, slipping ever faster through our fingers.  When I discover Quackers peering at me from behind my computer screen, I smile, and for a fleeting moment my soul is five years old on Christmas morning.  Pretty amazing gift from a mere collection of thread and fluff.  Thanks, little fella.

He's watching you!