May 14, 2015 Memory
This week has been brought to you by the letter M for Memory. Memory was key both in the movie The Giver and in the movie Still Alice, both which I watched this week.
The Giver was written by Louis Lowery in 1993. It won the Newbury in 1994. Though I’d seen the science fiction young adult classic on many reading lists while I was in college and working at Barnes and Noble, it was never assigned reading for me. I got the book for Ana, but never read it myself. Anyway, the story centers on Jonah—a 12 year old. He becomes a Receiver of Memory in a future Utopian society. An older man is known as The Giver transfers the memory of society or humanity. Pain, hunger, starvation and other negative experiences are erased from society, save the single Receiver. Jonah realizes that everyone should be allowed to remember the good and the bad. Knowing pain as well as joy is what makes us human.
Still Alice is novel by Lisa Genova. It was written in 2007 and was made into a movie last year. It just came out on video. Alice a 50 year old academic who develops early on-set Alzheimer’s. Her memory slips slowly away and she loses not just her ability to teach linguistic, but her ability to remember her friends and family. The disease essentially takes her very identity along with her ability to care for herself. Memory, we see, is so much more than scattered snapshots of our past. It is who we are.
I’ve never known anyone with Alzheimer’s, but ever since I heard of the disease, I’ve held a fear of getting it. My mind is my most cherished possession. As a writer, I feel the need not to just chronicle my life, but everyone else’s life around me. I capture life like a photographer or painter. I want to preserve the past for future generations. It is through my eyes, but it isn’t always about me.
I think of my ex-boyfriend, who has decided to ignore his life beyond the scope of 7 years ago and I think of friend who wants to ignore her life before 2004. While I understand that certain times in our lives may be less pleasant than others, they are just as vital as the rest of our lives. They are attempting the kind of one person Utopia that Lowery describes in The Giver. It appears to be ideal, but it isn’t. Slowly the people and pleasant moments in those terrible times get lost as well. Anything good that my ex-boyfriend and I shared gets lost with the bad stuff. The fun that friend and I had double dating or hanging out no longer means anything, so our friendship is now shallow. As a part of their unwanted post. I am no longer a part of their present or future lives.
I am reminded of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The two lovers wanted the memories of each other erased, but the process took the good memories as well as the bad. It didn’t take away their connection and ultimately they wanted to start over. We often wish to delete or alter or suppress painful things, but in the end, we find that we can’t escape them. The pain is part of our growth and part of who we are. It shapes us even if we refuse to let it define us. Yes, we are more than our pain. But we can’t eliminate that part of ourselves.
The Receiver of Memories must be strong just as She Who Remembers must be special. The ability to remember, the desire to remember s not something everyone has. Memory can be a burden to bear, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. When I read the Linda Lay Shuler book She Who Remembers back in 1990. I knew that was who I wanted to be.