Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Machinery of Memory

Have you ever noticed how much energy it takes to create memories? Wait -- perhaps that's not the right question... I would say that the greatest and most meaningful memories seem to be captured effortlessly; it takes no great feats of concentration or activity to burn a special experience into one's mind. But have you ever noticed how much energy it takes to create opportunities for memories to be created?

Such an equation was formulating in my mind on the train ride home from Gouda on Tuesday -- like Einstein's Theory of Relativity... The degree to which "ordinary" existence must be altered times the degree of exposure to multisensory stimuli equals the strength of impression left upon one's subconscious... Or something like that. Of course, the mathematics of it all are merely a silly diversion. But it seems to me that truly memorable experiences do not typically happen without a significant expenditure of energy. It seems like the vast majority of my most memorable evenings up to this point in my life have left me exhausted -- utterly fatigued by the journey into unfamiliar territory and the corresponding sensory overload. It always seems to end with struggling to stay awake on the quiet ride home, the mild feeling of nausea and discomfort, the sickeningly sweet satisfaction of time well spent.

On Tuesday, our family visited the city of Gouda for the first time. But wasn't to gawk at the golden wheels of dairy derivative paraded through the old-time cheese market (although I must confess that I might be interested to go back someday for this prototypical tourist experience)... Instead, we felt like true Nederlanders encountering the city six months outside of the peak tourist season. We were privileged to experience the city in the company of thousands of Nederlanders (even including her majesty, Queen Beatrix), coming together to observe the 50th annual observance of Gouda's Kaarsjesavond (Evening of Candles). Traditional dancing, a live nativity scene, street performers, horse-drawn carriages, holiday music, and candlelight from practically every window in town...

The evening was an unforgetable experience. But it was exhausting.

To allow participation in such a special event, we had to endure train delays, frozen extremities, hungry children, massive crowds, tight timelines, and uninformed expectations. By the end of the evening, as I was wiping excrement from the bottom of my squirming and screaming daughther on a packed and jostled train, I must admit that I found myself wishing we would have just stayed at home -- so the kids could have just gone to bed at their regular times and Marci and I could have just watched some television. It would have been so much easier. So much simpler... And so much more forgetable.

Of course, now that a few days' ordinary activities and a few nights' ordinary sleep have cushioned the experience, I am incredibly grateful that we made the effort to enjoy such an adventure. And I look forward to the next time that we'll get to forge such memories... But preferably not too soon. I need some rest first.


At 10:39 PM, Anonymous DA said...

Sounds "Gouda" (pun intended).
I'm a little jealous of your experience, but grateful for your lesson on making memories.


At 4:01 AM, Blogger Jay said...

This thought has occupied me a great deal in recent days, but in a slightly different way.
I look at each day and and see that chance for monotony and the routine, and the opportunity to shrink into comfort, ease, self-gratification...and ultimately, the general neglect of my sons. Like you, I have thought, "Wouldn't it just be easier to stay home, eat dinner, take a bath, brush teeth, read books and go to bed (on time, so that I can do all MY things and still be able to get decent sleep), than to take the boys swimming....again." And that's the thing. They love to swim. I think it's cold and tedious, but they love it. They never want to do what I want to do. It's selfish,I know, to say it, but I'm just being honest.
And then it hits me. I never remember Dad saying, "Shut up and go play in your room so I can study!" What I do remember is listening to classical music with him, reading extraordinary books with him, playing basketball and football with him, camping (albeit in the back yard) with him, and basically doing everything my little heart could have longed for with him.
So then the 2 or 3 times a week we go swimming is sometimes painful for me, but it is, as you say, a memory in the making. And that is what pushes me on when I am tired and would rather plop them down in front of the TV for them to watch a movie. What kind of Dad do I want to be? What do I want them to remember? Let them say one day, "Remember how Dad always took us swimming!" Let even our daily routines be studded with the beauty of greatness and memories for our children.


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