A mind is a terrible thing to waste so they say. But that’s exactly what happens – the thing just wastes away, bit by bit. Just as you are born, you just as readily begin your inevitable, imperceptible decline. Apparently, the mind isn’t the steel fortress of filing cabinets and reel-to-reel movies that we’ve made it out to be. If you listened to WYNC’s Radio Lab you would know this.
Instead, it’s a rather delicate membrane. It is permeable in some spots, though not in others. As soon as you witness something and lock it away forever as the happiest day of your life, the mugging on 65th street, a college graduation, or summers by the sea, your memory has already gone and fractured the whole thing into an impossible kaleidoscope of nuances. Sight, sound, color, faces, places, and words are continually rearranged every time a memory is recalled. This is why trial witnesses often make or break a case – condemning or setting free individuals based on the possibility of having seen or heard something somewhere some place in time.
Memories are little more than reimagined vignettes that we replay for ourselves behind closed eyes. My own are like little films that are silent in some parts where the dialogue has faded to all but vigorously moving mouths because I’m not sure who said what several years down the road. I never remember the superlatives – the most embarrassing thing, the funniest thing, the scariest thing, the best thing. How does one choose when with a mere flick of the wrist the kaleidoscope shifts the pieces into a completely new pattern? Memory is a razor’s edge of truth with vast emptiness on either side. Overtime, the mental picture degrades and the details become vague generalizations.
My sense of smell or hearing is what brings most of my most favorite memories to the surface. Late summer nights when the cicadas are humming loudly in the dark remind me of the blackness of the South African night, lying awake in the heavy, humid heat. The smell of honeysuckle reminds me of hidden Manhattan gardens, Central Park in the spring, and Savannah, Georgia.
Memories of people are the hardest to hold on to. There are many things about humans that are ephemeral: the sound of their laugh, the smell of their skin, their handwriting…We go to great lengths to preserve moments with photographs and recordings and home movies, but nothing is as sweet as the vision you hold for yourself, even if it’s flawed by the workings of millions of tiny neurons.