A memory is an intricate, ever-shifting net of firing neurons and crackling synapses. Memory is not some vast cerebral warehouse filled with rows and rows of neatly ordered filing cabinets. It is more like a maze, the twistings and turnings of which rearrange themselves completely each time we step into the past. Not facts but fabrications, memories are perpetually remade and replaced as new experiences shift the skein of synaptic connections in our brains. When we recall, the neural pattern corresponding to the memory flashes through our skulls as quickly and as clearly as a lighting bolt. And like lightning, it is as swiftly gone. Nothing is more fickle, inconstant, flickering. Nothing is as true. “The past is the only dead thing that smells sweet,” British poet Edward Thomas wrote. That’s because every time we recollect the past we re-ignite it, and bring it back to life.
This abbreviated essay originally appeared in the April issue of Ode, on sale now.