“Memory is a child walking along a seashore. You never can tell what small pebble it will pick up and store away among its treasured things.” – Pierce Harris
Memories are such strange things. We scoop up little moments, big occasions, and tiny details and store them somewhere deep inside our brain, to be recalled at a later time.
But the truth is that we have very little control over which experiences join our long-term memory, and which moments fade away. The brain creates new synapses between neurons every time we make a memory, and the reason that some are more easily recalled than others remains a mystery.
What is your earliest memory?
Mine is being carried by my father into a small hospital room. My mum was sitting up in bed, wearing a blue dressing gown with spotted fabric on the shoulders (being the 80s and all), and holding my new baby sister. I was 2 years old.
Growing up, there are snippets of bedtime prayers, arguments with my sisters, and summer camping trips. I remember the day a boy walked around school all day with a huge spider under the brim of his cap, and I remember the Mickey Mouse watch I was given for Christmas in 1990.
These are just the moments that – for whatever synapse-related quirkery – I am able to recall without any prompting. There were countless other moments in between, however, that I simply don’t remember.
We have very little control over what is remembered. And while we keep things, videos and photographs to help jog our memory, we never really know what long-term memories are being forged.
Now, I’m not a horrible, anti-memory jerk. It’s wonderful and vital to commit some moments into a more permanent form, like a photo or a video. But I also think that the memories we’re most likely to recall without any prompting happen outside the camera.
So my advice?
Put the camera away after a few minutes and stow the smartphone in your handbag, because we create so many more memories by actually living.
Last week, the kids and my husband were dancing to the music at the end of “The Lorax”. My daughter is four, and she was singing, “Let it grow, let it grow,” so full-heartedly, while our little boy danced with my husband.
It was wonderful, and hopefully something I will remember forever. But inevitably the music ends, the kids resist bedtime, and we get tired and need to move on.
The truth is that trying to hold on to a moment that has passed is like holding on to water. The harder we try to grasp it in the palm of our hand, the faster the water trickles through our fingers.
We can’t hold on to time, no matter how much we’d like to. And trying to hold on means we’re not living in the now.
I’m prone to reminisce as much as anyone, but living in the past is robbing us of the present and quite possibly the future.
Trying to force ourselves or our kids into shoehorning a particular moment into their long-term memory won’t work. They will remember whatever their synapses inform. So this summer (or, rather bleakly, winter for me), do things for the experience, the joy, the fun of doing it. The memories get made regardless. So make them good!