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You Can't Remember Half the Things You Used to -- How Much Does That Matter?

While memories may be all you have of the past, they're not all there is to being alive. There is something more.
 
 
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It's pitch-dark. Your eyes have opened, but you cannot see.

Piece by piece, you begin to establish your location: Bed. Yes. Home. Middle of the night. Wednesday. No, Thursday, now. Early. Chilly. Fall.

Even as, half-asleep, you're reassembling yourself, part of you wakes up to the fact that you've just come from a dream: your body—abuzz, refreshed—is still in the feeling-state the dream created. Where you are, though, matters less than where you've been. Your body, still half-slumbering, is eager to return to the exotic land you've just left, but your mind can't make out where to go or how . . . . Wait, there's something. A boat. Your father, rowing . . . . No, not your father; some other male. You were coming from . . . a movie theater?!? Someone was there with you—to your right? Behind you? You can feel the absence of her presence. You turn back to the boat, but the guy is no longer there. Did he disappear in the dream, or did he disappear because you can't remember the dream? And was that a boat he was in or a pickup truck?

You keep searching, as if inching your way through some unexplored cave—arms, hands, fingers, fingertips outstretched—and whenever you feel you've almost got a handle on something—a picture, a notion—damn, it slips away, escaping deeper into the blackness. It was right there, just a minute ago. You were living it; asleep, yes, but your body is still feeling it, yet you can't connect the feeling to anything in particular, and you're losing your grip on the few pieces you've managed to grab. They're going. And now—wait . . . .

Just then, a heavy metal door clangs shut. Whatever it was is gone. You shake your head, frown. You're done. Every so often, you've been able to hoist a dream back from the void, to bring your mind and body into alignment, but not this time. The search is over. You've lost it. You just can't remember.

What's been worrying you lately is that when it comes to remembering things, the balance of your day—the part you live in broad daylight, the part when you're supposedly not half-conscious—is not so very different.

Thanks for the Memories

Once upon a time, you may recall, you had a ton of memories.

First, there was all that personal history, all the things you felt and did and thought: treasured successes (admittedly, a tiny handful), regrets and disappointments (regrettably, more numerous), your mother's funeral, your first day in kindergarten, those insane-making worries and jealousies that used to go on and on, forcing you to waste all your days and nights preparing for eventualities that never came to pass, the otherworldly sight of the immensity of the Grand Canyon at night, your eldest's first day in kindergarten, the punch your chin took in 6th grade whose sting you still can feel, unanticipated moments of inexplicable bliss (like that time in the car on that winding road in Virginia when "Eleanor Rigby" came on the radio), stuff you did yesterday, girls you kissed 25 years ago—a nearly bottomless bulk of experience that made you you.

And that was only the start of it.

Packed on top of all that, another mass: innumerable bits and pieces of knowledge of the outside world that clung to you like the nose on your face: Oscar winners and state capitals and NBA and Major League and NFL statistics and playoff results going back decades and song lyrics and social and political horrors and injustices that made you livid with rage and plays and books and TV shows and God knows what else. Once upon a time, all those numberless memories were quite content to rest quietly in the comfortable home you'd built for them, loyally waiting to be called into action whenever they were needed. And when you summoned them, they came.

 
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