Her: I think I'm losing my mind. It's on the symptom list: loses one's mind. It's happening.
Him: How do you mean?
Her: Have you noticed me forgetting a lot of things lately? And losing words? Losing people?
Him: What's the symptom, the real symptom?
Her: (as if quoting medical text) Loss of memory, inability to concentrate or focus...
Him: You seem a little scattered but it's been busy.
Her: No, okay on Friday, let me tell you, on Friday? My friend came up to me and thanked me for the note I sent her, told me it meant a lot to her.
Her: I did not remember writing a note! What note? Why did I write it? What did it say?
Him: Was it just...
Her: It was just a note that was clearly important to her! And I had no clue! I watched as all the meaning just leached out of that note. Because I could not remember!
Him: Did you ever get it?
Her: Yes. It was so humiliating. She had to explain it to me. She had to tell me about the note I wrote to her.
Him: Well did you explain to her?
Her: No! No I couldn't! How do you tell someone that? In less than 1200 words?
Him: Look, everyone forgets things, you've been busy.
Her: Okay what about yesterday? Two people I know walked up to me to talk to me and I think I really hurt their feelings because I couldn't recall who they were! Me! I remember people's names and faces for forever.
Him: But it's normal to forget people you don't know well.
Her: One was our neighbor, who I see at school every day!
Him: But he's not a close friend.
Her: It's not just that. I know his name, I know I do, but I couldn't get to it, that knowledge. It's the other man, though, the one at the park. I can't forget how he looked. He walked towards me, his face so open and expectant, happy, glad to see me. He knew me.
I...I think I might have taken a step back as he came closer. I was so confused. His face looked familiar, but was it just one of those faces? The kind that look familiar?
But maybe...maybe I have one of those faces. I don't know, that's the problem, I don't know. I...I took that step, the one back. And I think maybe it showed on my face, so he stopped. Did you see that? How he came towards me and then I stepped back and he stopped?
Him: Maybe, I don't know, I guess so.
Her: He stopped and looked confused. His smile just melted off of his face. And he paused, then turned away.
Him: I'm sorry, I didn't see.
Her: Should I have gone forward? Said hello, just in case? I didn't know what to do. I can still picture his face. Isn't that crazy? I can remember his face vividly, but him, I can't remember him.
Him: Maybe you didn't know him.
Her: No, I think...I think maybe I was supposed to know him. He came towards me. I looked around, oh, maybe that's what I did, I glanced around me to see if he meant me or someone else, except, there wasn't anybody else nearby. Or maybe I took a step back. Maybe it was that I glanced around, didn't see anybody and then took a step back or felt like I took a step back. Did you see me, what did I do?
Him: I don't know, I'm sorry, I wasn't paying attention.
Her: It's, you know, it's so hard to know what to trust. The other person? Me? My mind? My mind telling me, "No, you don't know him!" Or my gut, saying, "Maybe you do, or did," like an instinct. Because he was walking towards me. So that meant he knew me, right? Unless he's wrong. But I don't know. That's the problem, I don't know. What do you do when you can't trust your own mind? When you can't count on your own mind?
Him: I don't know either. I don't know how to pay attention or know for you. I don't know where this is coming from. I thought you were doing better. You seem mostly okay, better.
Her: I was, for a while. But last week, it fell apart again. I can't seem to get fragments in my mind together sometimes. I get confused, lost. I was trying so hard to remember Jane's last name. You know Jane? And that man I used to work with, the funny one...what's his name? This morning I was writing and I couldn't think of that word...and now I don't even remember what word it was. I saw a note from a friend asking for something, and I can't remember if I did it. I forget things, all the time, now. And some days I look at paper and just can't seem to follow instructions...like ordering the shirts. I write notes to remind myself of things and I forget to read the notes! This isn't me. This isn't me!
Him: Maybe the new medicine, the new doctor...
Her: I need my mind now! Now! It's terrible, like a jigsaw puzzle of a mind...I see all the pieces but I can't figure out how to put them together. Just...just things don't make sense sometimes. I can't stand it.
Her: Time is all jumbled up, too. I am suddenly remembering things from twenty, thirty years ago, like it was yesterday, but I can't remember that friend from a few years back.
Him: (consoling gesture)
Her: I think maybe it's time to get a notebook for me to wear around my neck. I think if I start writing down everything, maybe I can look at the paper and put it together.
Him: No, really, it can't be that bad...
Her: It is, it's that bad. I'll trail off in the middle of conversations. My friends expect me to be scattered now. Flaky. I've got a new reputation as flaky. I can't look anyone in the face anymore.
Him: Oh...oh hon...
Her: (deep breaths, calming) I don't know what else to do. A notebook necklace. It'll be the new rage.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
First published Tue Mar 11, 2003; substantive revision Mon May 10, 2004
‘Memory’ is a label for a diverse set of cognitive capacities by which humans and perhaps other animals retain information and reconstruct past experiences, usually for present purposes. Our particular abilities to conjure up long-gone episodes of our lives are both familiar and puzzling. We remember experiences and events which are not happening now, so memory seems to differ from perception.
Memory seems to be a source of knowledge, or perhaps just is retained knowledge. Remembering is often suffused with emotion. It is an essential part of much reasoning. It is connected in obscure ways with dreaming. Some memories are shaped by language, others by imagery. Much of our moral life depends on the peculiar ways in which we are embedded in time. Memory goes wrong in mundane and minor, or in dramatic and disastrous ways.
...an understanding of memory is likely to be important in making sense of the continuity of the self, of the relation between mind and body, and of our experience of time...
When we can so easily remember, don't we sometimes carelessly think how lovely it might be to forget? And yet, memory is the thing we use to "make sense of the continuity of self."
Forgetting is not erasing. It is still there, in you, but you can't reach it. It is a terrible pain of knowing you should know but don't.
Losing your memory feels like losing yourself.
It's normal to forget. We get busy, shift priorities, time passes and the memory loses its importance.
So sometimes, because remembering is too important for this particular thing, we set up reminders, use mnemonics. Note on paper, thoughts in a diary, strings around fingers. Or maybe we create a day specifically to remember.
Today, November 11, is such a day: Veteran's Day. It's the day set aside to remember the cost of war, to ponder the heroism of people who go to war or are caught in a war, and to remember that once, four wars ago, the world fought a war that was meant to end all wars.
I've talked about peace.
Today...I'm simply going to remember. In my head, I think of names, people I've known and people I know who are in this war or a past war. I think of people I don't know, too, people I imagine or see and hear about on the news.
Maybe you will too.
It's just a little thing, but it's a bit of honoring.
This is part of the Monday Mission, and the request for us to pause in remembrance today.
Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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