"Dad, do you think Disneyland would be fun?" asked Aidan.
"Hmmm . . . You know what I remember most about the amusement parks I went to, when I was your age? Standing in line."
I have vivid memories of the wooden railings at Great Adventure outside the Log Flume ride. Constellations of gum stuck to the walls. I remember the slant of the sun, the sunburned feeling on my neck, the sound an artificial decorative stream bubbling near the entrance. The disgustingly sweet smell of cotton candy. The hollow thunk of empty flume boats drifting past towards the loading area, still slightly too far away to be seen.
Yes, I remember the waiting.
Of the ride itself, I have absolutely no memory. Well, not quite true. I remember the flume boat hitting the bottom of the final drop, and what my soaking-wet shoes felt like when I was getting out of the boat. Being soaking wet, I recall, was not nearly as much fun as advertised.
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Lying in bed one night, my wife and I try to recall the first time we met. It was at an SKS meeting at UNC-Chapel Hill, in the early summertime. I have one image of her from that encounter still intact in my memory. I remember thinking that she was attractive, but that she didn't talk enough that night for me to know whether I liked her or not. She says she remembers me talking a lot that night, and thinking that I was really smart . . . But neither of us remembers what I said at all. It frustrates me that I can't remember the exact room we were in. Even with the two of us talking together, reminding each other of details, we have a hard time piecing together the chronology of our early relationship -- when exactly, did we go out on our first date? And the first time we broke up?
When, exactly, did the most tumultuous, passionate episode in my life start to become fuzzy and confused in my mind?
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I try to summon memories of the early childhood of my first son . . . I find it disturbingly difficult to summon specific memories unaided. Some routines were, through sheer repetition, burned in permanently. I remember every contour and detail of the wooden changing table beside the bed in the bedroom, but I can't recall what his face looked like then. I remember the streets and sidewalks and trees where I walked with him at night in a sling, trying to get him to sleep. I remember the pattern of the sling, but not what he wore. I remember the shape of his hands, the bump of his legs against my side, the weight of him in the sling. I cannot, for the life of me, remember his face.
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I started reading The Sandman comics by Neil Gaiman a couple years ago. I just got Volume Three of the bound collections. The Sandman is Morpheus, the incarnation of dreaming. As an eternal being who has been around for millennia, he's constantly running into other long-lived gods and demons and recalling old times: "We drank wine in Babyon together . . . " I find it slightly annoying that all these immortal beings have such crystal-clear recollections of events centuries ago, when I can only hang on to a few shreds of memory from a mere five or ten years ago. It seems more likely they would say things like, "You're my brother? Ohhhhh, yeaaaaaah, I kinda remember that . . . " Or "What the heck did we do with ourselves in Babylon? Was that Ashurbanipal's place we stayed at?"
It makes me wonder about God himself . . . All of humanity's drama may rise and fall away, and all God might ever remember is the theme song of "Gilligan's Island."
Let me start with a mundane comment: I definitely definitely definitely recommend taking your kids to Disney World. It is not the "Great Adventure" of your childhood. They have something called FastPass that really solves the problem for the most in-demand rides, but even beyond that, they make standing in line cool. (Standing in line for the "Pirates of the Carribean" ride is worth the price of admission.) And don't just go for one day, by the way: 3 days, or even better, 5. It may actually give you and your children something to remember for the rest of your lives.
Now, on to what you were actually writing about. I want to share a bit of Steiner philosophy with you. First, the caveat: I don't really understand Steiner. But as far as I do understand it, one of his beliefs goes something like this. (Of course what follows is my metaphor, not his. But the spiritual belief is his.)
Think about a TV show you watched some--but not religiously--as a kid, and you haven't seen it since. For me, the Jetsons works really well. I remember George Jetson's world. His wife, his 2 kids, his boss, his boss's competitor, his house, his car, his dog, his maid, etc. But I couldn't tell you much about the plot of any individual episode. The same goes for a lot of those shows, and even books: I remember the world in which it happened, but not the stories themselves.
But now, here's the interesting thing: when you first see the show, you see one individual episode. Then you see another. Each time you are engrossed in that specific plot. You aren't really concentrating on getting the world details, but they sort of seep in while you're looking the other way. And then, after you stop watching for a few years, the plots seep away and those world details are all that's left.
And here's the point: Steiner argues that your life is like one of those episodes. While you are concentrating on the details, you are actually learning valuable and general lessons about life, under the covers. After you die, your spirit moves on to another life, and then another. The details of each life, the things you were concentrating on, are thrown overboard like so much ballast; but the underlying lessons are learned, and so the spirit grows over time.
What you describe definitely jibes with my own experience, about life in general and old TV shows in particular. After a five-year hiatus, Janet and I started watching old "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" episodes, and we marvelled at how much we could remember about the characters while having almost no recollection of the plot-lines of any individual episode. Ahhh, that's why TV shows live on forever in syndication -- the characters feel familiar, but the jokes still seem fresh.
I suppose the overall point of us learning things without remembering how we learned them is also true. Knowledge is, at its essence, distilled experience; we extract the useful knowledge and throw the experience itself away. But if the experience itself is so disposable, why then do we feel troubled when our memory of them fades?