How I Remember

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Self-training effects us more than we realize.

I’ve always been fascinated with how people’s minds work. What they hold onto. How certain moments are etched into the memory, and what pieces they feel content to let go. How do they determine the inherent value of individual aspects of life? Why are some things easier to recall and mentally experience versus others?

I’m curious about these things because I am always flummoxed about what I remember, how I retain it, what comes to mind only after an immense amount of effort, or the happenstance set of connections. And of course, the “why” behind it all.

The “why” is generally a loaded question. I’ve also known it to be a rabbit hole.

For instance, I’ve always been great with faces, and I used to be good with names. I’m not sure when the latter changed. I have a hard time remembering dates and times, but I can clearly recall the feeling or sometimes replay the moment in my head. I rely on landmarks over street names. I look for imaginative connections for mundane processes. I’m more street smart than intellectual. I focus more on life experience than academia. 

Just to name a few.

I’m enamored with the “why” behind this because I’ve felt like I’ve been losing memory and recognition the last five years or so. I’m not sure if this is actually true or not, but it’s how I feel. It’s disconcerting that I can’t reach back into my past and pull out what I want.

In a sense, I sometimes feel a little like the inner-working system in the Pixar movie Inside Out, where the little gray worker-blobs go through the memories and suck up the unused ones, sending them down to be forgotten entirely. How is life so immersive, and yet, there’s too much of it to be worth active remembrance?

I’ve learned that I value the emotion of a situation above most other things because I’m primarily emotional. I need to feel a personal connection to something or someone, or I seldom experience the connection of importance or prevalence.

That’s not to say I devalue anything not based on emotion because I’ve learned I also value objectivity and the skill to remove myself from the equation when needed. But, if I’m not able to define my reason for engagement, I don’t care nearly as much. Or, if I’ve previously cared in the past and something happens to sever that, I let it go almost let it go without glancing back too often.

It used to bother me that I couldn’t figure out my “why’s,” but now I don’t care so much. There’s fun in mystery and adventure, but more importantly, I enjoy the discovery of self that comes with an incomplete set of answers. This means that not only am I always learning, but I can change if I set my mind to it.

Here are some examples from my own life that showcase what I’m talking about.

I got divorced from my first wife (I’m currently married to Lauren, my second wife) sometime in October, like ten years ago. To this day, I can still look back and reminisce about the good and bad moments, and I remember our final conversation almost like it was yesterday. But I have no idea when we were married initially, and I don’t know when we got divorced. These seem like important dates, but in the scheme of things, in my head, the date falls in importance to the reasons behind the dates. As long as I have a general time frame and specific details of pivotal marriage points, I’m good.

Going forward, the lessons I learn from the feelings give me more value than the dates do. I do remember that when Lauren and I were married, I’d been divorced somewhere around seven and a half years. That number proves significant and memorable because it marked the amount of time I’d had to live between two grand moments on my timeline. There was not only definition in those years, but growth, mistakes, successes, and new introductions.

Contrast this with the day one of my favorite pets died in early February 2001. Duchess, our female Doberman Pinscher, remains to this day one of my most loved pets. She looked after our family and my siblings like a mother hen, but she always came and slept in my room at the end of the day. She was my compatriot and friend as a young boy. 

Her demeanor was calm, composed, incredibly nurturing, and loving. But when she felt threatened, or that her “pups” (my sisters and I) were in danger, she became appropriately protective. I remember one day, my dad was wrestling with us in the living room, and when Duchess felt he was becoming a little too aggressive (which he never really did), she nipped him in the butt as a reminder. The look on my dad’s face was fantastic.

She was around twelve when she passed away after developing a disease that affected her brain, eating away at the tissue and bone. I never learned the name. She bore it with dignity, perseverance, and grace, as most animals tend to do. Our family was dreading the day we had to take her into the vet, as not to do so would only constitute as torture for our dear dog. And that we couldn’t do.

We all cried when the moment came. It was in the morning. We said our goodbyes, and Duchess was gone. At first, I was surprised how strongly I was affected by this, but I didn’t fight it. It’s ok to feel and to show love for Duchess was as far from a crime as anything.

However, I’ve always wondered why I remembered the day almost more than the emotions themselves. Early February 2001. But that’s the case. 

The last example is kind of a compromise of my two outlooks. My mother died on July 24, 2016. I remember vividly so many real, tangible moments with her. And God, the number of emotions are too many to recount. But after she passed, I made an extremely conscious effort to remember the date. I’m not sure why…It just felt necessary.

In an odd sort of reaction, though, if I don’t continue to remind myself, it’s almost like my brain doesn’t want to remember the date. Sometimes I catch myself recalling it as if in a fog, fighting for the answer. July 24, 2016. I find this odd, but I attribute it to years of “convincing” myself I’m not good at remembering dates, subconsciously as well as not.

Our self-training is an exciting concept, and I’ll have more to say about that later.

Memory is simultaneously spectacular and bewildering. How do you guys generally recall events? What are your mental, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual strengths? What surprises you the most about your mind as you get older?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. As always, thanks muchly for reading. I hope you’re all having a grand Tuesday, staying safe, and finding light and laughter.

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