My dad once told me, “You are the sum total of your memories.”
That makes me think, what am I if I have no memories?
Who am I if I do not have a past?
I’m horrified to even try to imagine life without being able to hold memories!
What you just read 3 seconds ago is now history. What you are reading NOW is the present. What if you read this now and you have forgotten what you’ve previously read about 6 seconds ago? What if you suddenly can’t remember what happened yesterday, as if there were a large hole in your mind’s memory bank? If you find that confusing, well take this, something like that actually happened to a man named Clive Wearing, the man with the SEVEN SECOND MEMORY. I read his story in his wife, Deborah Wearing’s memoir, Forever Today – a remarkable memoir of love and amnesia.
In 1985, Clive Wearing unknowingly contracted herpes simplex, the cold sore virus. By the time his wife realized the gravity of her husband’s illness, Clive was already in a delirious state. He couldn’t remember his wife’s name or his house address. Soon after the doctors realized what the root of the problem was, the virus had already caused encephalitis, a fatal inflammation of Clive’s brain.
But the herpes virus did not stop at inflaming the brain; it ventured on to damage its key structures. And inevitably, it arrived at its main target area: the sea-horsed-shaped structures named hippocampus, which are used for recalling and remembering, and laying down new thoughts. The hippocampus is the critical part of the brain that stores memories.
By the time the doctors discovered the real situation in Clive’s brain, all he had left were sea-horse-shaped scars where his memory used to be... But life was not done with Clive yet, for he soon recovered from the virus. However, he had to live with the most fatal blow of all: the lost of his ENTIRE PAST and his ability to take in and store new memories. A doctor said that “information coming into his brain melted like snow alighting on warm ground, leaving no trace.” I was horrified when I read this. How can anyone live without holding memories…??!
Not only had Clive lost his past forever, he also lost his ability to store any new memory. Doctors deem his case of amnesia to be the worst ever recorded. And take this: each time Clive blinked, his eyelids opened to reveal a new scene. How? Because the view before the blink was completely forgotten! As unbelievable as it sounds, I feel utterly dreadful to think that it is a reality for Clive and his wife Deborah, who faithfully cared and loved him for the next 20 over years and probably longer.
I was close to tears when I read that Clive really had a memory span of less than 1 minute! Deborah encouraged Clive to write his immediate thoughts in a diary whenever he was “conscious”. Nearly each time he managed to update his diary (in his short conscious time span), Clive would write that he was “awake for the first time… have been unconscious for many months”. But in actual fact, the “many months” equalled his split-second blink! And sadly, each time he opened his diary, he would read in astonishment the sentence he had previously wrote countless times: “Awake for the first time,” or “NOW awake for the first time” or “Finally awake and conscious for the first time”.
Unbelievably, Clive’s mind was constantly being restarted (no, RESET) every few minutes! He didn’t even have time to take in his situation, his surroundings, and find any meaning in it. So even after reading his diary of similar statements, in one blink, he would have forgotten what he had read and again repeat that statement – the experience of “awakening for the first time” being so real to him. When Clive’s wife, Deborah, realized how hopeless his situation was, this is what she wrote:
“This concept of nothingness was too ghastly to comprehend for more than a split second. It made me nearly pass out with fear. And now Clive was in something like that, a great big blank nothing all of the time, seeing me and perceiving the world around him, and yet being unable to get a purchase on it, unable to live in a continuum, to move through from one moment to the next.”
Reading Deborah’s memoir felt like watching a terrifying nightmare, which unfortunately was reality for them. Deborah wrote that she tried to imagine how it was for Clive: “Something akin to a film with bad continuity, the glass half empty, then full, the cigarette suddenly longer, the actor’s hair now tousled, now smooth… It must have looked as though the world were ending, the earth falling apart.” I can’t imagine it myself. How can anyone possibly lose all memory of the moment that was just before the blink of an eye? It’s utter madness!
I realize now that I take for granted my brain’s ability to store information and recall them whenever I wish. I take for granted that God had created our brains to be able to absorb new memories and retain old ones. (How can a function so complex be deemed a work of chance by so many ignorant people?) WE ARE THE SUM TOTAL OF OUR MEMORIES. Without a past, we are nothing. Without memories, we almost cease to exist (at least to ourselves).
Reading Deborah’s memoir Forever Today has taught me to value memories and to value my mind’s God-given ability to think. To think continuously with memory of what I was thinking one minute ago. (!!!) To have a life that has good continuity, with an ongoing story that makes sense to me.
Thank You God for the memories that I have!!! Good and bad, they both make me who I am – right NOW.