Friday, March 11, 2016

The Tricks of Memory and Perception

Thinking about it this morning, I realized that I just don't remember this past ten days.  There are bits and pieces that I recall.  Maybe it was because I was so deeply in the moment at the time that there was no energy left for memory to work with.  

Troublesome times can be like that:  we recall intense flashes of certain scenes and everything else fades away.

The intensity of a of my most intense memories is of an event that was over in perhaps a single second real time.  I had come home from work carrying a plastic grocery sack that contained about two dozen small very sharp paring knives--we had held a special event that day and the knives were needed for volunteers to hull and slice strawberries to feed more than a hundred people.  I walked through the house looking for my parents and, failing to find them, went out the back door where I slipped on an uneven paving stone.  That was the Moment:  I was falling and I knew that injury was inevitable but I was very clear that I had two choices:  I would be stabbed by the knives if I didn't throw the bag clear or I would damage my foot by falling awkwardly as I threw the bag.  It was a fraction of a second but I recall the entire decision process and I can still see the scene as though I were both inside and outside of myself.  I can still see the bottom of my foot facing up awkwardly at me, and I can still see the bag of knives arcing in the air.  I made the right choice but I wore a splinted support for nearly a year and, more than 15 years on, my foot still damns me daily.

I remember another time watching my mother fall  in front of a store and being unable to do a single thing about it.  It really appeared that it happened as a spiral in slow motion.  My mother and I were not the only ones who remarked on this but there were several bystanders as well who had the same slow-motion experience watching her fall.  When I watched trees coming down during Hurricane Katrina, they also seemed to fall in that another spiral slow motion.

Katrina.....there's another quirk in memory.  It isn't the storm but the aftermath that survivors remember most--not the turmoil and the loss so much as the odd unexpected moments that broke through the grime of life.  I remember especially being asleep outside and being wakened in the middle of the night by the brightest lights.  It was the stars coming out from behind a cloud.  I was wakened by the stars.  A confounding and amazing thing--it made me realize how much our alterations of this world have changed our interactions with it.  And it has to be contrasted with the force of nature, Katrina, that strafed my beloved Mississippi Gulf Coast.  So much is gone forever.

And today is 3.11,  The anniversary of the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami.  I am thinking of how the memories must be for survivors there.  I hope that stars peeked out of the clouds for them, too. 

When I think about the survivor stories I've heard both from Katrina and Tohoku, I realize that many people also had those crystalline and spiral experiences.  Perhaps memory has to play tricks on our perception so that we are not overwhelmed by experience.

I've been listening to the 2011 New Year's Eve performance of Arashi's Furusato (Hometown), a song that has encouraged and inspired so many.  No matter where your hometown is or what language you speak, I'd bet your feelings would be reflected in this song.  I'll share a link with you.  Only four of the guys are singing because the fifth is playing a very special piano that was rescued after the Tsunami and rebuilt:  Furusato

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