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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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That's an "Upside"? Isn't There Some More Positive Way of Looking at This Whole Thing Without Sounding Like a Sleepwalking Zombie?

You try to think positively about yourself and put a Zen spin on the problem: the reason you have no memory is that memory is . . . irrelevant. You're totally in the moment, neither living in the past nor fretting about the future. No, you live only in The Present, The Now, which, as we all know, is all there really is. You're swimming in existence as existence washes over you—you're immersed in it—and if tomorrow you find yourself unable to remember today, that'll be the case only because tomorrow you'll be too busy splashing around in tomorrow's present moments to remember today.


But that's all bullshit and you know it. You're no more living in The Now than you ever did, and, besides, you used to have a pretty damn good memory. (At least a serviceable one.) Once upon a time, if you looked hard enough for something, you'd find it, because something was there. Now there's less and less to locate, and once found, images sail off too quickly for you to catch them.

(Hey, wait a second. Wasn't this part supposed to be "positive"?)

Okay, here's positive:

While memories may be all you have of the past, they're not all there is to being alive.

There is something more.

There's also the connection that you make to what lies beyond The Now, to that something which isn't you but connects you to everything there is. Whether you make that connection through art or nature or religion or love, it occurs at those moments when the trance of habit and routine is broken, and a door opens onto something greater than the small and simple confines of your everyday life. At those moments, you manage to catch a glimpse of the world—stark and separate, beautiful and fierce—as, unmediated, it reveals itself to you: in a pop song that mysteriously pierces straight through to your heart or the gentlest fingertapping sound of raindrops on wet leaves or a child's unguarded face or the startlingly graceful three-pointer that flies out of nowhere to end the game or the harsh finality of a loved one's corpse.

The Inevitable Bottom Line

It's a little bit like dying, isn't it, memory loss? A kind of vanishing act? The slow wasting away of who you are, and who you were. Fewer and fewer images to play with, in no apparent order, and the few that do remain themselves fading and disappearing for no apparent reason: jump cuts and quick dissolves, the work of some nutty auteur. And this evaporation of detail after detail of your life foreshadows how—once you are gone—those who knew you will slowly forget not only the details of your life, but, over time, you. Dead, you'll fade into a half-remembered dream they'll have difficulty recalling, the details entombed in some dark corner of their minds—a corner that'll seldom, if ever, be reached. All those years spent striving and yearning and then—? Poof. The Brick Wall. The End. And whatever you'll have managed to achieve or contribute during your life, whether to benefit yourself or your family or even mankind—children, love, wealth, invention, art—all that, too, is similarly doomed to hit a similar wall, for one day, all your beneficiaries will have vanished as well.

However, while you're still here, before you actually do pass on, your consciousness, fragile creature that it is, might be envisioned as a sort of endless ticker tape of frequently random images, fragments, shards, and shreds, a cauldron of muddled feeling-states and thoughts, sometimes so fleeting that you're barely aware of them. You generally operate under the belief (or illusion) that you're making your way forward, coming from a past where you know something happened (even though, with each passing day, what exactly it was that happened is becoming more and more obscured). Once upon a time, you were able to stop the tape at will, rewind it to whatever memory you were looking for, and experience it anew, almost as if it were happening for the first time. No longer.

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