Short Memory

August 2020

We have awfully short memories. It was only a few weeks ago that a surfer was killed by a shark at Manresa State Beach. For a week I was wary of the water, even entertaining the idea of dropping surfing all together. But I now once again find myself throwing on my wetsuit and heading out for a paddle. I guess I have a short memory.

 

The same goes for the unpleasantries of past trips and endeavors — the cold, ticks, rain, mosquitos, injuries. Their unpleasantness seems to decay with time, until it is so minuscule that we find ourselves heading back into the fray, undeterred [1]

 

I think this is generally a good thing, lest we live a life paralyzed by the past. But when applied to issues of more pressing importance than just the individual, we may find ourselves in dangerous territory. Think “Save Darfur” and “Kony 2012” — two movements in the West that came and went, without much of an actual resolution. People just seemed to forget about them.

 

But on both the large-scale and the individual level, this lackluster memory of ours may be ascribed to the difference in our experiential and narrative selves. When something happens to us, like being caught in a swarm of mosquitos, or learning about the leader of a brutal guerrilla group, we first have an experiential response, driven by the heart. Our blood pumps, our head throbs, we experience a visceral reaction to the input. Time dulls this response, and the response of the heart is replaced with that of the mind. This is the narrative self taking over, it tells a story, one that is warped by time.

 

This is why those mosquitos from that backpacking trip you went on don’t seem so bad in retrospect. Or why you can’t quite remember where Darfur is on the map these days. It's also why I still surf.

Notes

[1] this obviously depends on the intensity of the experience. If I didn't hear about a shark attack, but was instead a victim of one -- perhaps I would never surf again, or it would take years to go back.