Saturday, July 7, 2007


While working in the garden, I was wondering what an individual memory is worth. If someone were to ask me to choose a memory I'd be willing to lose, my first response would be to get rid of the bad ones. The time I fought with my best friend in second grade. The time I got lost in the woods. Labor and delivery without an epidural? Definitely. I'm sure I could find dozens of memorable events with which I'd be happy to part.

But upon a more serious examination of what memory loss entails, it's impossible to untangle one memory from a cavalcade of others. A memory doesn't stand in isolation, like a cut flower in a vase, rather its roots dig deep into the soil of our being. We neither pick nor choose the seeds, but tend this large random garden throughout our lives. A row of grandchildren here, a patch of pets there, a greenhouse full of favorites, a shed full of disappointment, a tool room full of works in progress. The gardens thrive on our unique, particular styles. Memories are what they are, sometimes easy to locate and sometimes so elusive, the more we hunt for them, the further behind a shovel they hide.

Alzheimer's disease strolls into this garden, neither gate nor fence can stop it. Our deep, rich memories are ripped up by their roots, shaken with powerful teeth from the soil of our past, and left to die.

Will I lose the memory of my second grade fight? If I do, I lose the lesson I attached to it - never let the sun set on a quarrel. Will my wandering alone in the winter woods for hours be lost to Alzheimer's? If it is, I'll lose my love of maps as well. Will I forget a 52-hour labor to deliver my first child? If I do, my child, now a grown man, will be lost as well. All are connected in a root system so complex and delicate it challenges the most brilliant among us to unravel its mystery.

I don't know why we remember things the way we do, I just know I want the freedom to wander this terrain, in full bloom, for as long as I draw breath.

Do we grow old to stare at brittle vines, parched earth, the empty rows where the grandchildren were playing just a minute ago or do we fight for our memory, the who of what we are? And if we do fight, what is an individual memory worth? Pick your best or pick your worst, think about the value it has in your life, what you'd give to keep it, and donate that to The Unforgettable Fund for Alzheimer's research. Here's how.


1 comment:

  1. Patty, I've been reading The Worst Hard Times, a book about people who survived the destruction that was the dust bowl. Your writing about memory loss has a lot of parallels...