The Hotchpotch That is Our Memories

Monday, September 15, 2014

Memories have become intriguing to me recently. Partly because my father has Parkinson's Disease Dementia and due to his illness our relationship is reduced to trips down memory lane, which in turn has required me to dig deep into my long term memory for material. Partly because in raising my son, long dormant memories from my own childhood are randomly surfacing, and also because I have come to realize there are some memories that I simply do not have: “Mum what color was your first bike”? No idea!

Memories can connect us in a unique way to people who share those memories. My sister and I are close largely due to our shared history. She lives on a farm and has a passion for animals, I work for a tech company and like to get my vegetables delivered, yet we are the only two people who have experienced our parents, as parents, and that fact triumph everything else.  However, what often strikes me is how, despite having many similarities, our recollections of past events are never entirely identical.

Memories are basically not to be trusted, at least not as a record of the truth. At best, they are a truth; our personal perception of a point in time that as the years pass, is interpreted and then reinterpreted using our current cognitive position as well as integrated feedback from others. What is more we mold our past, often unconsciously, to make for a good narrative, a narrative that fits the way we want to perceived now. I personally do this quite consciously as I just love dramatic story telling.

At worst, memories are plain fabrication. For example, I have a memory of being a toddler and sitting on top of patio table eating strawberries right off a serving platter. We have a picture capturing this very scene perfectly. Me with unruly blond curls wearing just a diaper and a t-shirt. My eyes are squinting against the strong summer sun making me look slightly mischievous. It is a scene that has a fairly prominent place in our family folklore because it has been depicted, humorously, as the event that sparked the person I was to become. However, as I was less than two at the time, this very memory is likely entirely fabricated and yet it feels so very real to me.

It does not make me treasure my memories less knowing that they are a hotchpotch of facts, perception and fiction. In fact, it only makes them all the more interesting to decipher, especially in the company of others who share them. And since my memories are not necessarily a static, and factually accurate, record of my past perhaps some of my more embarrassing moments never took place at all?  One can dream…

“Memory…is the diary that we all carry about with us.” 
– Oscar Wilde

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