Imagine if you had the ability to instantly wipe the slate clean. I don't mean in the figurative sense here, but in the the literal push-of-a-button possibility of all those unwanted memories simply vanishing. (I realize that I'm sounding flakier by the moment here but please bear with me.) At first glance, I have to say that such an idea appears quite inviting. Memories of all those nasty break-ups--GONE. Memories of personal defeat--also GONE. I mean what harm could possibly be done by selectively discarding such unwanted mental baggage?
However, such mind alteration would have to result in some consequences. I mean take Charlie Kaufman's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. For those of you who haven't seen the surreal film, here's the 20-second synopsis: Boy meets girl. They eventually fall in love proving that opposites do attract. But as the honeymoon phase ends, the couple realize that their differences may be irreconcilable. As a result, they break-up and both decide to undergo an irreversible procedure to erase all memories they have had of one another. Ultimately, Joel (Jim Carrey) regrets his decision and sets-out to metaphysically recapture all of his memories of his dear Clementine (Kate Winslet), despite the fact that she still has no recollection of their relationship. Are you all still with me? I know it sounds bizarre but I think that Kaufman truly has his finger on the pulse of the human condition. How? Well, read on, folks...
Recently, a very close family member of mine was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease (AD). A truly hearbreaking illness, AD causes one's body and mind to eventually disintegrate. Essentially, the disease is progressive brain damage in which tiny plaques slowly envelope centres of the brain, resulting in permanent cell damage. And these nasty plaques don't discriminate either. They target one's use of language, reasoning, motor skills, and even long and short-term memories. In a sense, it's like individuals suffering from AD are like the love-lorn Joel. Knowing that their fate is imminent, I imagine that they try to hold on to their memories in any way they can, good or bad. Because in essence, our memories are what define us--they make us who we are. Even in those negative memories--that nasty divorce, the death of a loved one, or living through a natural disaster--there is significant evidence of our humanity.
At the same time, our memories of our loved ones are instant portals to those moments that define our relationships. Whether they allow us to relive the marriage to our sweetheart or the birth of our children, such memories remind us why these people are in our lives. And in the instance that a loved one's recollection of these moments simply vanish, as in the tale of Joel and Clementine, we carry on their legacies in our own way regardless of their spotless mind.