The Selectivity of Memory

Matt - Des Plaines, Illinois
Entered on January 25, 2009
Age Group: 30 - 50

Lately I’ve been fascinated with the way memory works. Not memory in the sense of short term or long term or even in the sense of developing a better one. Rather, I’m intrigued with the people and places we remember rather than forget. The way two people in the same situation may, years later, have completely different recollections of what happened and of even who was there at the time. I believe the things we remember and others forget reveal who we really are.

In terms of school, I have vivid memories of all my teachers and most of my classmates. What I remember about both is mysteriously selective. I seem to have forgotten some of the moments that friends of mine who were in the same classroom have deemed significant, and have remembered, for whatever reason, some of the seemingly lesser moments that they have forgotten. For example, I clearly remember my second grade teacher, Mrs. Dietrich, a wonderful lady with a lilting southern accent. She brought to the classroom a wealth of anecdotes, treats, and objects that to we suburbanite seven-year olds were undeniably exotic. One day she brought us each a cotton boll from “Daddy’s plantation”. She also brought us a horned toad which she affectionately referred to as “our little horny toad,” a decidedly randy term that went right over our second grade heads. She also regaled us with stories of her childhood, ones that usually involved breathless adventures with her brothers and sisters and obstinate cattle, or newly born kittens found nestled in a corner of her barn. She seemed to live a charmed life, even having had occasional brushes with greatness. Greatness, that is to second graders who were in awe that her college roommate was a friend of Jeannie C. Riley of Harper Valley PTA fame.

I adored Mrs. Dietrich and would have done anything for her. She stood up for the underdog, showed countless acts of kindness toward her students, and could bring a sense of joy and wonder to even the dreariest of days. Finding a spider spinning its web in the corner of the classroom window, she gathered us around, and we watched, spellbound by it all.

These smaller moments are incredibly vivid for me and yet are ones that no one else seems to remember. I believe the moments we live and the people we meet make impressions on our minds the way light passing through a camera lens makes impressions upon film. The difference being that each person’s “film” is sensitive to different types of stimuli. Even more mysterious is the way our “film”, like those classic Hollywood films, can deteriorate with time, leaving us with gaps that make our stories incomplete and at times incomprehensible, and unlike the Hollywood classics cannot be restored or brought to light again.