How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.
–Alexander Pope, “Eloisa to Abelard”
Memory is one of the more remarkable things about being human. Our brains are like giant storehouses of remembrances that can be instantly recalled at the sight of a photo or by an isolated scent or by a single word. It’s like our memories comprise our entire identities, because if we don’t know what we’ve done or who we’ve known or what we’ve seen before, then we don’t know who we are right now. In Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, Margaret Atwood explains that records and accounts of transactions in terms of money are an extension of memory, because if what’s due isn’t written down or recorded, it could be forgotten and never paid back. In the same way, our own memories are like a record of our lives: the really important things in our lives, not just government-type things like social security numbers and taxes. And memory is such a powerhouse! It can announce itself without invitation and make a rememberer miserable, or it can bring such great comfort and joy unexpectedly. Eternal Sunshine has made me think about memory in the context of relationships, namely whether it would be better to remember a broken relationship and be made miserable by remembering, or to not be able to remember any of it, good or bad, as if it never happened. I think losing my memory would be one of the worst things I could imagine; my memories are a roadmap of who I am, and whether they are good or bad, whether they hurt or make me smile, they’re all part of the journey. I never want to forget. Sever my limbs, blind me, take my voice; but leave me my memories.
… for they get the better even of their blunders.