Friday, June 22, 2007

The vagaries of memory

I go about the regular business of the day, and occasionally I wonder how I will remember this day - or IF I will remember this day. Will it join in my memory the thousands of days that have made up my life, but have left no indelible impression apart from vague recollections that spring from the sea of memory like the flash of the sun on a wave. Something, - a scent, a spoken word, a phrase of music, - brings back momentarily a sense of presence, a moment in time, and then it is gone again.

I have heard in the past ten days two stories that I know have been dis-remembered - I have the facts to prove that so. And yet I know the narrators sincerely believe their memories of the events in question to be perfectly true. I listened, and wondered, and mentally shook my head, but said nothing. However, as I ponder the problem I have come to doubt my own memory, and I have been googling the science of memory, most especially as it relates to its vagaries and illusions.

I have long felt that there is something in the storage and retrieval system of the brain that causes some people to remember the positive things in their lives, and some to despair as they remember only the things that have made them unhappy.
This is only from personal observation, and I find nothing in my research to support this idea.

What science does say about retrieved memories is that they are reconstructions, rather than exact reproductions.

Science compares the fragments of memory that are retained and retrievable to a few threads on a loom, with the brain weaving in whatever recent stuff it can find. So the tapestry of memory is a random picture of the old and the new. Does the old thread stand out as a golden thread of memory, or is it beaten into the weft of modern times, lost amongst the threads of the ongoing adventure and coloured by recent experience.

Science also says we remember the unusual, and perhaps that is so, but many of the snatches that return to me are of humdrum times, - little vignettes that are really quite ordinary.

And some of the things you would expect to remember are buried deep - I have no recall of the bedroom my sister and I slept in, and yet I remember the rest of the house in vivid detail.

A mystery, and a puzzlement, but not one that I am going to fret about.

I cherish too much the comfort that my memories bring me, be they true or flawed. I am one of those who remember the happy times!

Monday, June 18, 2007

What is this life if full of care

We have no time to stand and stare?

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep, or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this, if full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

William Henry Davies 1871 - 1940

One of the most delightful advantages of aging is an awakening awareness that probably hasn't been felt so strongly since childhood.

Do you remember the intense kinship you felt with all of nature when you were a child? The awe that little things inspired? A wiggling worm, a tadpole, the green grass growing, and the passion for four leaf clovers? What a precious affinity we had with GRASS, embracing time in guiltless idleness as we lay on the lawn, imagining shapes in the white clouds of summer.

And the little girls who romanced with the flowers in their mothers' gardens, making Princesses out of hollyhocks and sweet heads of clover, - all dressed for the ball and Prince Charming.

Now, as age steals busy activity, it leaves in its place the time to recapture some of the awe of childhood.

The "trailing clouds of glory" that Wordsworth saw surrounding the very young child seem to return to us, and surround us, as we reach the final years.

Some are lucky (or wise) enough to carry the sense of wonder throughout their whole lives, but for others it is a surprise gift bestowed by a sense of infinity and appreciation.

Here are the small birds that gather outside my kitchen window,

- and the magnificent eagles that soar upwards with the currents that are born in this valley.

Here are the simple, endearing daisies,

- and the complex roses with their tightly curled petals, slowly enfolding themselves into splendid maturity.

Here are the flowers of our childhood, the descendant seeds of the perennial sweet peas that Husband's mother planted around the orchard in the early days of the last century

- and the more exotic lilies, that never grew wild in anyone's field.

If we consider them all, and enjoy the beauty they lend to the days we spend aging - they add to the bonus time that enriches all of living. If we are wise enough (when we are younger) to make time to stop and stare and wonder as time sweeps us along in our busy lives, - how much richer we are for that!!