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Friday, March 5, 2010

The persistence of memory

Many of my earliest memories of childhood are populated with imagery consisting of long lazy weekends tagging along with my parents as they ran errands or of visiting and or being visited by relatives and friends. That’s not to say these events happened often but rather they seemed significant enough to form a lasting picture in the landscape of my thoughts. Though this set of memories is fixed as my history, I can’t help but think logically that it may merely be an artifact.

Examining my past with dispassionate clarity I find I have done a good deal of editing. Edited from these memories are the long lonely days affixed before the Sears Silver tone television, and the cruel sibling rivalries that often linger into adulthood. It would not however be fitting to include these for they don’t truly define how we felt or what we aspired to be; rather these memories are hollow and lacking of the emotional wherewithal to stand the rigors time.

In contrast, through the lens of time those memories that are most prominently imprinted are the sweetest. Like the subtle flavors in wine they are condensed from a few years of ordinary experience into a vintage akin to a golden age.

The experience of the lonely and desperate hours of today will likely undergo the same editing process. This will ensure that any future retrospective will primarily reflect those images that speak of the finer moments. It’s unlikely I will recall in a future time any emotional laden memories associated with my daily train ride to and from my office. The images of my lonely journey through the wastelands of Philadelphia will surely fade to a solitary factoid, as will the memories of those embarrassing episodes of drunkenness. So this will not be a modern discourse on dysfunction or self loathing, but rather about the bricks and mortar of self-identity. For we truly the are the sum of our experience.

Through the looking glass of memory our experiences, each of us frames their personal outlook onto the world that is as individual as a fingerprint. This brings me to the story, I being the youngest among nine siblings, was about five years old when my Father’s employers informed him his job and soon his family would be transferred from Boston to Philadelphia. Unknown to me at the time was the full extent to how this traumatizing event had effectively ripped my family in two. Because of my youth, only through the stories told by my older siblings is this made evident. In the months that led up to the move there was a sense as if we were moving to far off Australia. During those months, being not yet able to understand complex emotions I looked upon the ordeal as an adventure. I remember on one adventure in particular while my brothers and sisters were in school my Mother, Father and I went on a trip. As I recall it during that day from place to place, into the evening we went visiting my parent’s old friends and relatives, some I had never seen before or since. The impending move felt so permanent to them, and so they were saying their last goodbyes. While doings so we entered the landscape of their youth, saw there the childhood homes, and visited upon the burial sights of my grandparents. They, who to that point had existed in my mind only as abstractions, associated only by a few warn photographs. They were now in death part of the tapestry of my life. I recall my experience of that day as a kind of unintentional ritual, an initiation into history of the family. From that day on all of those people would form a pantheon to a grounded world beyond my own experience, a portion on the yardstick to which I would later measure myself.

In the cultural context of our modern age, each generation must reinvent itself in response and in contrast to an ever-changing technological monolith that we as individuals have little effect on or control over. At the current pace to which our technology is evolving, we may soon find it has outpaced our ability to synthesize these changes. It may be that the pace of change may require another evolutionary leap. And it could be equally true that we possess the cultural wherewithal to meet any challenges that the future may bring.
In prehistoric times, how well early humans survived had much to do with how well they could mentally visualize themselves in, and as part of their environments. Shaman of these days crafted from their unique visions the beginnings of cooperative society. This variation in perspective would eventually give rise to culture. Vestiges of this evolutionary mechanism survives today in us all. Its transformative power still informs us. However, for the most part our everyday observations are nullified by an overwhelming cultural consensus that tends to squash original thought and takes from us our incentive to try. As a result of this phenomenon the breadth of our collective experience has become narrow to the point where we sometimes feel we can no longer trust our own senses. We like our ancestors before us should attempt to see ourselves as we are, as individuals baggage and all.

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