Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Power of Memory

It amazes me how much we don't know about the human mind. One aspect is our ability to conjure up memories from the darkest recesses of our mind thanks to a smell, or a song, or a picture. For example, I went to a Saint Paul Saints game with my wife not too long ago. While there, I bought a bag of fresh roasted peanuts. The smell triggered a memory from when I was eight. You see the last time I had fresh roasted peanuts was when I was with my father at a circus in Germany. I remembered how a camel walked over to take some of my peanuts, and when I wouldn't give it any, it spit on me. So, as I sat at that game eating those peanuts, all I could think about was that circus, and how vividly that whole night was playing in my head. Some people say they can remember the day Princess Diana died. My father told me that he clearly remembers the day the United States landed on the moon.
So why do I bring this up? Well, today two things happened that brought back memories that I had not considered in years.
The first was a film. A 1989 thriller starring Nicole Kidman and Sam Neill called
Dead Calm. The last time I saw this film was as a senior in college. As I sat there watching the film, I remembered the last time I had seen it so clearly. I was sitting in my house in St. Louis with my girlfriend (now wife) and my roommate (a faculty member, but that's a whole different story). We sat and watched the film and at one intense point, one of the cats jumped on to my roommate, and he SCREAMED. This was not just a small little yelp, this was a full on horror movie scream that neighbors heard in their apartments. One guy even came over to make sure no one had died.
The other memory is not as funny and came out of nowhere. I was sitting in the faculty lounge at lunch and started talking to a few teachers. At one point, a math teacher commented, "Some of these kids think they're Superman. Like they think, "I cannot be beaten." I used to know a guy named Chuck when I was in high school. Chuck's mantra (which he repeated every hour on the hour) was "I cannot be beaten." He would say this in classes when he got questions right. He would say this on the ice or on the field when he scored. He would even say this when he would make out with his girlfriend (or so she said). Chuck was a very brash person, and he didn't care who knew it. That brashness is what led to Chuck's demise.
After graduation, Chuck moved to New York for college. One night, as he was returning from a party, Chuck was bumped into by some guy. Rather than just let it go, Chuck turned on the guy and stepped up to him. Unfortunately for this brash young man, he hadn't realized that the guy who bumped into him had many friends. Late night in Subway in New York. One man against five. Chuck never had a chance. He was beaten to death under the streets of New York. No one ever found the guys who did it.
Let me be clear, I was not really friends with Chuck. I just knew him as a classmate, but his hubris, much like Ajax, led to his death. When I heard, "I cannot be beaten," it reminded me that in a few days, it will be the eight year anniversary of his death.
This leads me to some advice for you my dear reader(s): Realize that you are not invincible. I've mentioned the John Glenn principle in a previous post. You could go at any time. The smallest, simplest thing could end your time. Chuck did not think that calling out a guy in the subway would lead to him being killed. Just realize, if not for yourself, then for your friends and family, that you are mortal and not invincible. At the same time, cherish your memories, no matter what they are, or how deep they are buried, because your memory is what keeps a person alive after they are gone. That's the real power of memory. It can reach across death and keep someone alive in our hearts.
Sorry that this got so sappy, it's just how I feel.

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