Goodbye old friend?
On October 11th, an old friend, John Tucker – ‘Tuck’, who was deathly ill at that time, closed our conversation by saying, “Goodbye, old friend.” When he said that, I immediately felt a sharp shard of memory cut through the curtain of consciousness, appearing in full color, very short, but very real. I remembered a sunny afternoon, after school. We were walking together past Brigg’s stable. There was a tree there, on the north side of the road, sitting in a bit of a dry well, a well perhaps 3 feet in diameter, by means of which someone had carefully prevented the lowest part of the trunk from being damaged by wet soil. We were in the eighth grade, walking west from Sylvester school, heading home.
Reflecting on this memory, I realized that if, and when, my friend ceased to live here on planet Earth, we will remember millions of events, large and small from the last 5 decades, many of which we shared with him, or in which he appears. When you put some details on the on the bones of that idea, the details start to get interesting.
Our human minds, each with its associated memory “bank”, contain coins of existence as memories, each in varying degrees of accuracy, clarity and importance. Physically, we have a perceptual time frame of slightly less than .4 seconds, but I suspect the least time for triggering a perception into memory storage might be, on average, longer, for ordinary moment-to-moment living. For the sake of exploration, let’s say storage to memory requires about 5 seconds, a time frame which allows us to recognize an event plus some time to recognize our own physical and emotional reaction to the incoming perception. That gives us an opportunity to record some memory of it, in the form of a memory of sound, sight, smell, taste and touch. Most of these brief storages will fade, or disappear completely, if not actively gathered, reinforced or re-remembered. Some just live on, for whatever reason, reinforced or not. Still, there are about 12 ‘units’ of memory possible to perceive and store per minute, if the reader will allow me the approximation.
12 per min. X 60 min. per hour X 24 hours per day X 365 days per year X 50 years is what?
315, 360,000 memory opportunities in all, which is more than 6.3 million such possibilities per year.
Now, of the 52 years of opportunities available, Tuck and I had spent perhaps 10 of them in constant daily contact, or nearly so. Then we interacted on several thousands of other occasions over the years. Let’s estimate it conservatively at 7 years of contact. Multiply that by 6 million and we end up with 42 million possible triggers for recalling a memory. Many of those are kept alive and, in continuity, for retrieval, deliberately or spontaneously. That is a staggering measure of memory coins. If those memories were miles, we could ascend to the moon 190 times.
Now it is true that Tuck and I did not reinforce and recall all memories of each other every day. Some memories are just not that relevant to our lives in a way that merits recall and reinforcement. Nonetheless, I say that I think of him, still, at least in a passing way, at least once a week, often more. I often think of him in regards to something current, often in a mode like this: my friend spoke about this category, and he might say this, or react in such-and-such a way to an idea like that. I compare each of life’s new event against the history of my interactions with him. Sometimes I think of him, when I’m ruminating about Music, Photography, Tools, Woodworking, Bicycling, Politics, Handshakes, Hugs, Love, Differences, Friendship, Living Quarters, Happiness, Stress, Places, Professional Life, Meals, Tools, Books, Discussions, Snow Removal, and the list goes on an on, in a finite but very long list.
So when he has drawn his last breath, his friends will be holding a gigantic treasure trove of these memories, and these memories will persist as long we still have our mental marbles to move in the game of human experience. I imagine that it will seem to me that my friend will remain, and he will be absent, simultaneously.
Ain’t it just like life to be so wonderful, yet contradictory and hard to comprehend?