Never Forgetting

December 2, 2008

Who hasn’t wished for a chance to remember their distant past. Not just details but emotions dulled or lost in time. And remembering events so intensely that they feel relived.

Such a chance would be a priceless gift. Call it limited immortality, an oxymoron but accurate description of vividly experiencing one’s mortal life over and over.

Pondering the idea brings forth unbidden a long list of pleasurable events, as if they’re competing for priority. Inevitably they’re followed by a long list of events I’d do anything to forget.

It turns out that the human brain has this capacity, and scientists have identified a handful of people so blessed — or cursed. Much studied is Jill Price, a California woman who recently told the German magazine Der Spiegel:

“I don’t look back at the past with any distance. It’s more like experiencing everything over and over again, and those memories trigger exactly the same emotions in me. It’s like an endless, chaotic film that can completely overpower me. And there’s no stop button.”

The article continues:

“She’s constantly bombarded with fragments of memories, exposed to an automatic and uncontrollable process that behaves like an infinite loop in a computer. Sometimes there are external triggers, like a certain smell, song or word. But often her memories return by themselves. Beautiful, horrific, important or banal scenes rush across her wildly chaotic ‘internal monitor,’ sometimes displacing the present.”

Writing about memories is about as close as I’ll come to reliving the past, an experience riven with its own emotional highs and lows. But it falls far short of being Jill Price.

Maybe I’m so seduced by the lure of visiting again what I dearly miss that I don’t grasp the nightmare Price lives. Descending into the bad is a price I’d pay for the good.

At least for a day.