death by paper cut

{October 21, 2007}   Memory Loss

EP doesn’t even remember that he has a memory problem. That is something he discovers anew every moment. And since he forgets that he always forgets, every lost thought seems like just a casual slip—an annoyance and nothing more—the same way it would to you or me.

Ever since his sickness, space for EP has existed only as far as he can see it. His social universe is only as large as the people in the room. He lives under a narrow spotlight, surrounded by darkness.

On a typical morning, EP wakes up, has breakfast, and returns to bed to listen to the radio. But back in bed, it’s not always clear whether he’s just had breakfast or just woken up. Often he’ll have breakfast again, and return to bed to listen to some more radio. Some mornings he’ll have breakfast a third time. He watches TV, which can be very exciting from second to second, though shows with a clear beginning, middle, and end can pose a problem. He prefers the History Channel, or anything about World War II. He takes walks around the neighborhood, usually several times before lunch, and sometimes for as long as three-quarters of an hour.

read the full article at National Geographic Magazine

The National Geographic magazine recently ran an investigation about memory and featured two people with special interest; a woman in her forties who remembers everything from when she was 11 years old and a man in his 70s or 80s who cannot retain memory (think Memento). the above extract is a description of his condition. i wanted to cry when i read that he takes three breakfasts a day just because he doesn’t remember having already eaten.

he has a wife and a daughter who takes care of him. i can only image their heartaches.

i think the loss of memory is more harrowing than what science can shed light on. the implications extend immensely beyond the individual and i think more poignantly on the loved ones because whenever you forget an experience once shared with someone for example, you deny a part of that person.

we’re all witnesses to the lives of each other and when we don’t remember, a source of our validation is wiped out. imagine a partner waking up from a coma and denying any memory of his or her significant other… the other simply loses his or her significance. even in that situation, people like those responsible for creating 50 first dates endeavor to find a solution to a happy ending.

but on a less dramatic scale, remember that when you forget having had shared a whiff of that crisp cool air, that explosion of taste buds incited by a sumptuous dish, a birthday or anniversary, or how it used to be, you banish the shared memory as well as the other partaker of the memory to emotional siberia because afterall, memory is meaning.

why do you think people get married? because we need a witness to our lives. there’s a billion people on the planet. what does one life really mean? but in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything – the good things, the bad things, the mundane things, all of it, all the time, everyday. you’re saying, “you’re life will not go unnoticed, because i will notice it. you life will not go unwitnessed, because i will be your witness.”

shall we dance


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