Monday, February 18, 2013

Have We Met?

This weekend I found myself standing next to an older woman I've met a number of times before.  For a moment, I struggled to remember where we'd met, then it hit me: she has taken a few of the classes I've offered for senior citizens from time to time.  As I recall, she's always been a great student, though I confess I'm having trouble remembering her name right now, and feeling a little sheepish about my memory.

As it turns out, she has it even worse.  When I greeted her, she asked me with her usual winning smile, "Have we met?" I told her we had, and where we had met.  She said she had no recollection, and I thought she must be joking.  Then she added that she has recently suffered a head injury and has lost her memory.  She remembers that she once had such a powerful memory she was reluctant to tell people how much she remembered, lest she appear to be boasting.

Now she has very little of that memory left.  She was cheerful, as always, but I thought maybe a little sad at what she had lost.

A little earlier in the day I had been speaking about C.S. Lewis and ecology to a church group.  There I spent some time reflecting on a passage in Lewis's novel Out Of The Silent Planet where Hyoi cannot understand Ransom's culture. What kind of people would insist on having a pleasant experience again and again, Hyoi asks.  Isn't that like wanting to hear a single word from a beautiful poem over and over, but not the whole poem?  Isn't memory a part of the pleasure?

I have often taken comfort from that passage, since Hyoi's position is that growing old is not a loss but a gain, just as it is a gain to listen to a full symphony and not just the overture.  Perhaps this is why we fear losing our memories: as the symphony of life approaches the finale sometimes we forget the overture.

As my former student turned to go, I told her "It's nice to meet you - again."  She smiled, and walked away.

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