Mandan News

Brian L. Gray: Memory is like a… I can’t remember

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There are some things in life that stick with you forever. No matter how much you shake it, it burns in your mind, and for some reason its impact virtually becomes a part of you. Certain moments in your life, like the first time your mother held you in her arms and kissed a cut on your knee, or the final dramatic scene in the film “Schindler’s List,” there are certain things we encounter that greet us on a base spiritual level, and hold tight in our memory.

There’s something a childhood friend said to me once that I will never forget. I was 8 years old at the time, and I can remember the moment like it was yesterday. My friend and I were at my older brother’s hockey tournament, which we never actually watched, but instead meandered around the arena and caused trouble. While we were walking around looking for something to do that we knew our parents wouldn’t approve of, I told my friend something. He stopped to consider my statement, and after a brief moment of thinking how to respond, I remember he looked at me with a smirk, and then said, “A peacock without feathers is a peacock without a home.”

I remember this because I told my friend that I had a great memory. I threw down the challenge gauntlet and dared him to tell me any phrase he could think of, and I guaranteed that I’d never forget it, as proof of my special cognitive ability. That sentence was his response, and somehow I’ve never forgotten it.

Some things in life that stick with you are negative, others are positive. And some are abstract and absurd, like the “peacock” phrase I remembered.

I wondered lately why that phrase has remained with me for over 20 years. Was my memory actually that effective, that I could recall a nonsensical sentence like that? Or was the phrase somehow naturally suited to my strange style of humor, and did it stick with me on an innate level? Did I want to be a man of my word? Or did I care that passionately about the friendship with my childhood buddy that I gave the “peacock” sentence special attention and made sure it was never forgotten, in order to keep my promise to my friend?

After all this time, I’m still not sure.

These days I’m glad I have the capability of memory, as I stand on the border of adulthood and the dreaded 30s. I’m able to recall good times in my past and my childhood as I weave my way into becoming an adult.

And in the line of business I work in, where I’m normally balancing 25 things simultaneously in my head and surrounded by Post-Its with random notes and scribblings, my memory sure comes in handy. Who knew, my cognitive skill is actually the reason I collect a check.

The kind of memories you have, I’ve noticed, change over the years. As children your memory is shallow, as you mostly reflect with your friends by saying, “Hey, you remember when…?” I can remember one time when I was 9, I turned to one of my buddies and said, “Hey, you remember when you said ‘A peacock without feathers is a peacock without a home?’ That was awesome.”

In your 20s and 30s, your memories become a bit more substantial, as sometimes certain memories can bring out parts of you that may have been forgotten. In some ways, memories can actually help you better your life.

But that’s where my knowledge ends on memory. You can always look into the past with the utmost determination and confidence, but looking ahead leaves us all with a shrug of uncertainty. I can only imagine what it’s like after that point.

And that’s fine with me. For some reason, I don’t fear the unknown we call the future. I can only hope that memories become even important to you as you age.

Call it strange if you will, but I look forward to getting really old and eventually losing my memory, if that’s what will happen to me. Because as important as memory is, I tell myself that something more important than the past is the present, and putting yourself into the moment will only sweeten your memories as time marches on. Because let’s face it – sometimes our memories get in the way of seeing things clearly. Emotions, personal opinions, past experiences, they often hinder objectivity.

If my memory goes, I’ll feel like I’m a baby again, experiencing life for the first time. Every song I hear will be new to me, each place I see I’ll view it with fresh eyes. Even all the lifelong friends I’ve made will feel like new ones each time we meet. I will be truly living in the moment.

And maybe – just maybe – I’ll be watching NBC one day in my old age, see the TV network’s peacock logo, and say to myself, “Hey, that thing’s got no feathers. And it’s all alone. I wonder if it has a home.”

Then something will connect inside of my dusty memory bank, and I’ll be reminded of the phrase my friend said to me when I was 8 years old, and I’ll laugh, and then I’ll wonder with utter fascination how it is that I still managed to remember that weird sentence.

There are a lot of unknowns in this world, but one thing remains certain to me – “A peacock without feathers is a peacock without a home.”