Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Memory and Reality

Don Quixote and I, I like to think, have a lot in common. We both live in our own worlds, as independently as possible from reality. But just as Don Quixote was undone by having to face the mirror of reality, I am frequently deeply shaken by the realization that something I clearly and distinctly remember may not, in fact, be the way it actually was. Being something of a pack-rat of the bits and pieces of my life doesn’t help, since I often stumble across concrete evidence, in the form of letters or photographs, that what I was absolutely positive happened at a certain time and/or in a certain way in fact did not.

I resent reality’s unnerving ability to screw up a perfectly good memory. I do not like the fact that memories that have been like old friends, comforting me through the years, can be challenged by fact--and to know that despite all the pains I take to disregard it, reality always wins in the long run.

I’ve had several instances of this since I’ve begun writing blogs. That I have so many photos from my past, and that I have every letter I wrote to my parents during my two years in the Navy have caused my memory to trip over reality on several occasions.

I’ve often told, for example, the story of how my Uncle Buck in effect ran away from home to join the army in WWI, and that my grandmother, who died in the flu pandemic of 1918, never saw him again. It is something I had believed all my life, and it made a very poignant story. And then I came across a photo showing Grandma, Grandpa, Mom, and Uncle Buck--in uniform-- posed together. And therewith, a tiny thread in the fabric of my being was snagged and had to be snipped off. Uncle Buck obviously did return home on leave after his basic training. But the resentment I feel for reality’s intrusion into my memory is, I admit, offset by my pleasure in knowing that Grandma did get to see him again before she died.

In an entry about my beloved Aunt Thyra, I relayed my distinct memory that it was my cousin Jack who had found her dead. But after posting the entry, my second-cousin Tom pointed out that it was his dad, my cousin Cork, who had found her, and I verified that by checking with Jack. A very small lapse in memory, but that it went against what I was so sure I believed bothered me nonetheless.

So what does it matter if memory and reality differ? To me, a great deal, for memories form the foundation of my life—they are an integral part of me, and to doubt them is to doubt everything that has made me who I am. I have built, to the best of my ability, my own world and shaped it to suit myself. I’m comfortable there, and I do not take kindly to the thought that many other cherished, firmly set memories might in fact, be untrue.

You might well think that, since I so dislike reality to begin with, I’d be quite comfortable with a little fudging. But I am not. I take it as yet another reminder that I am only human, and since my very earliest childhood, I’ve always wanted to be, and thought of myself as being, something more. I have no idea why this is so important to me, but it is. Why, I distinctly remember one time when I was about six….

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs ( ).

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