Look here. You can forget a thing and then recall it. Miss a turn and go back to it. Lose your mind and have fun finding it. Memory is everything. What would our imaginations be without facts to stretch and feelings to re-experience?
Now Dutch scientists have proven that our memory-making enterprise starts up in earnest while we’re still in the womb, responding to sounds, voices and attitudes. This is big news. Forever the preacher’s kid, the first thing I thought was, “So that’s why I know the Baptist hymnal forwards and backwards!” Followed closely by, “But if that’s the case, why can’t I sing or play the piano?”
But I digress. The great news about this memory thing is that we’ve actually forgotten even more than we thought we knew. Which means we all have vast new territories to explore. This is a gold mine for the inner life of imagination. Here’s to a life of reverie.
I like remembering, and I’m good at it. I can recall almost everything. I just can’t remember the next few seconds. For example, my wife, Mary, says take the next exit, I say OK, and then drive right past it without the faintest awareness that I failed to execute an agreement reached less than a quarter of a mile ago.
On the other hand, concurrent with this memory breakthrough thing, Mary read aloud to me that two drinks a day might ward off dementia. So I’m trying to cut back. But men, I hasten to add: take it with a grain of salt when your partners allude to dementia. Absentmindedness is not harmful. It may get you lost, but it won’t get you killed.
In Atlanta once, when I was in charge of entertaining five colleagues from Charlotte, including my boss, I picked them up downtown in my ’86 Trooper and headed toward the designated restaurant in Buckhead. With all the laughter and talk, I suddenly realized that I was turning left onto our street, off Northside Drive. With my mind elsewhere, the Trooper was heading to the barn. Our little dinner party was 2.8 miles off course.
Another time, headed to a red-eye vacation flight to Texas with Mary and two of our children, I shot past the Atlanta airport exit. No problem. I exited right several miles later, crossed over, and roared down the northbound ramp. Still plenty of time, I reassured them. Chatting away, I roared past the exit yet again, had to exit right, crossover, and zoom into the southbound lane with everyone shouting, “Exit now! Exit now!” Hey, we made it safely to the boarding gate.
I remember once in the third grade – back home in Graham, Texas … When the bell rang one afternoon I gathered my things and headed home. I remember quite distinctly walking along the sidewalk by the playground fence toward Third Street, wondering why so many kids were staying after school to shoot baskets and play kickball. When I walked in the house, my mother looked down the hall in astonishment. “What are you doing home? Are you sick?”
When I looked puzzled, she said, “It’s only a quarter ‘til two.” And then it dawned on me – school didn’t let out until three o’clock. I had innocently – and seriously, couldn’t this happen to anyone? – I had mistaken the afternoon recess bell for the final bell of the day.
Mother drove me the three blocks back to school, escorted me to the classroom just as all the kids were coming back in from play. Then in front of everybody she explained to the teacher where I’d been. Now here I am, three-quarters of the way through seven decades of memory-gathering, and I can honestly say that’s the most embarrassed I’ve ever been with all my clothes on.
Anyway, where was I?
ABC report on memory research in the Netherlands: