Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Marks

It is amazing how ageing evens out the triumphs and tragedies of life.

On the subject of male maternity leave (which both readers may be assured is not something I am particularly focussed on) I happened to hear a fellow on the radio the other day, singing the praises of a new Swedish law that allows fathers to stay at home as long as Swedish mothers.  Because of the law, he claimed, he had been able to witness something that apparently very few fathers do: the first steps of his daughter.

"Priceless" he declared the value of that moment to be, and the implication we are meant to draw from that declaration is that time spent at home with one's family is good, and that the reward for forgoing the payment ensured by employment is a priceless treasure, worth infinitely more than any amount of lucre (filthy or not) gained at its expense.

Really?  Frankly I think that the value of that experience is considerably overrated.  I cannot recall with any certainty the moment that either one of my children took their first steps.  Yet, even though I am pretty sure I was there for at least one of those moments, to tell the honest truth I cannot really recall if I was there for both, just one, or neither.  My memory of the moment was apparently not so precious as all that.

Have I really lost it?  Did I ever have it?  And if I did, did I value it so little as to allow it to get lost in my mind?

I don't think so.  I think that I am just like most people, and most people forget things, even important, amazing, unique and precious, one would swear to be unforgettable things.  And yet, forget them we do.

It's simple, really.  We simply cannot store all of our experiences front and center in our minds, so we move things back.  Even treasures get moved to the attic of the mind, to make room for all the new stuff that is constantly coming in through all the doors and windows in this metaphor, and the attic is a place for forgetting.

So how do we keep from forgetting everything?  And how do we decide what to remember?

It seems to me that the only way that memories are remembered is if we associate them with some physical aspect of the world.  We make a mark.  We can call it a mark, a sign, a symbol, a totem or even a photograph.  Whatever we call it, however we make it, mark making for the purpose of remembering has been a principle activity of Man since the dawn of consciousness.

To remember, we must make a change in the world.

On a stick, to measure the days, months and years; on a stone to chronicle a war or profile a leader; on paper to tell a story to forgetful followers and to stir the imaginations of every generation of humans.  Make no mistake, despite all attempts to make our marks permanent, we know of no way to remember our past other than via the continuous stream of human consciousness.  All marks are temporary, but memories have the potential to live forever.

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