Sometimes when my wife forgets where she placed her reading glasses or keys I'll tease and remind her that "we have medication for this problem." This would be funny if it weren't for when I too sometimes ask her where something of mine is she throws the one-liner back at me. Neither of us suffer from dementia (I don't think yet) even though the earliest signs of it can begin as such. Our recent and remote memories though are fairly intact.
In fact, my remote memory was stirred again this past week when I watched the Little League World Series championship game between the U.S. champion, Lewisberry, Pennsylvania, and Japan. It brought back very fond and lasting memories of my childhood days at Biloxi Southern LL in the Back Bay neighborhood of Biloxi. the most memorable occurring in 1963 when our All-Star team advanced to the Regionals in Norfolk, Virginia, being two wins shy of going to the Little League World Series. We lost to North Houston Texas, who in turn lost to Granada, California, who won the whole shebang. So we didn't feel so badly, losing to a team beaten by the champions.
Reminiscing from the general to the particular, I recalled my first at bat as a 9 year old, an inside the park homerun on two errors, but I cannot remember the first time I rode a bike, learned to skate, or use a pogo stick.
As an altar boy I remember the first Mass I served but I cannot recall my first confession.
I can't remember my first day of elementary school, but I do remember my first day of college, my wedding, and the birth of my first child -- but can't recall going home with our baby.
My first kiss, and double date -- I remember them well. And while I can't recall what I gave my wife for her first birthday, I do indeed recall the first time I made love (who can forget?).
Like many, I find some memories are more easily recalled than others. Why? Psychologists tell us the more that one's emotions are involved with an experience the more easily it will be remembered. For example, you can probably recall the morning of September 11, 2001. But can you recall the morning of September 10, 2001?
Recalling fond memories, especially with friends and family at gatherings, can be exhilarating.
But some people will get stuck in the past pathologically carrying with them memories that prevent them from living a fully lived life. If those memories are negative it can drag on their creativity and productivity. if those memories are self-absorbingly pleasurable it can be a distraction to being attentive to the functional things in life.
I came across a fable recently that metaphorically depicts the problem some have with being consumed by the past, or obsessed with the future, teaching instead to be attentive to the present.
One day, while walking through the wilderness, a man encountered a vicious tiger. He ran for his life, and the tiger gave chase. The man came to the edge of a cliff, and the tiger was almost upon him. Having no choice, he held on to a vine with both hands and climbed down.
Halfway down the cliff, the man looked up and saw the tiger at the top, baring its fangs. He looked down and saw another tiger at the bottom, waiting for his arrival and roaring at him. He was caught between the two.
Two rats, one white and one black, showed up on the vine above him. As if he didn't have enough to worry about, they started gnawing on the vine. He knew that as the rats kept gnawing, they would reach a point when the vine would no longer be able to support his weight. It would break and he would fall. He tried to shoo the rats away, but they kept coming back.
At that moment, he noticed a strawberry growing on the face of the cliff, not far away from him. It looked plump and ripe. Holding onto the vine with one hand and reaching out with the other, he plucked it. With a tiger above, another below, and two rats continuing to gnaw on his vine, the man tasted the strawberry and found it absolutely delicious.
The story is full of metaphors. The tiger at the top, representing the past from where you came, is dangerous if you dwell on it too much, especially if the experiences are negative. The tiger at the bottom, representing the future, is likewise dangerous if you're excessively concerned with it at the expense of your ability to act or maintain peace of mind.
The man's position on the vine represents the present, hanging as we do between the past and the present, you having the power as to how to use it. Climbing down the vine is not optional, in the same way our having been born was not optional. The vine represents the material world, our clinging to the physical with no choice but to live it out.
The gnawing two rats, black and white, represent the passage of time -- day and night, which with each cycle brings us closer to death, despite our efforts at allaying our aging, to "shoo" it away. The strawberry represents the beauty, energy, and vitality of the moment -- which is always there -- like the miracle of communicating at this moment ideas and thought between us. To taste the strawberry is to fully savor the flavor of reality.
Some people are so busy looking to the past or obsessing over the future that they don't notice the succulent fruit of the present right in front of them.
Sorry, I have a little more to say but I must cut this blog short as at this very moment my lovely wife just called out -- she needs help finding her purse. Later.