Ephemery of memory

January 23, 2020

Pauline Ryan, neighbor and friend, kept a journal from the time she started writing; and, for the last forty or so years of her life, in sickness and in health, chronicled every single day until death did she part.

 

One afternoon, my children and I had paid her a visit. We were all trying to remember Clark’s Hallowe’en costume from the previous year. Polly retreated to her inner sanctum and emerged with a notebook documenting the visit and the costume.

 

And now I’ve forgotten again, which is the point: one of the revelations of Polly’s journal is how much we forget.

 

Our mind appears to work as hard at forgetting as it does at remembering. We’re exposed to too much information to hold it all.


Challenge comes when you remember, and I forget.

 

I’m having a conversation with my friend. My friend says something I find distinctly annoying. The annoyance courses through my mind and body in a neuromuscular flash. Then, almost instantaneously, I come to a positive interpretation of my friend’s words, the annoyance disappears.

 

The dissonance was resolved so quickly, it didn’t get stored in short-term memory, much less long term, and dissipated from buffer memory almost instantaneously.

 

However, for my friend, the blast wave from the non-verbal neuromuscular flash hit with a force.

 

Friend: “What's wrong?”

 

I: “Nothing”

 

Friend: “I can see you’re annoyed.”

 

I: “No, I’m not.”

 

Have you experienced one of these unhelpful conversations?


I was annoyed, but it metabolized so rapidly it left no trace for me. My friend, however, is still experiencing the aftershocks.


No one is lying and no one is oversensitive. At the same time, unresolvable conflicts like these are the dramatic seeds for great tragedies.


Watch for these. Most of us have been on both sides.


More on ephemeral memory here: Five hours and 400 miles later . . .

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