or has time rewritten every line

Chi Chi Rodriquez (remember him? that cute little golfer dude in plaid pants?) apparently said:

I don't exaggerate. I just remember big.

I'm right there with ya, Chi Chi, except I'm more likely to remember things better than they actually were rather than bigger.

My mind simply does not retain stuff I didn't enjoy. Frankly, it doesn't retain a lot of the stuff I DID enjoy, either. It also seems to convert unpleasant experiences to pleasant ones before it stores them away. That's sort of a fascinating and useful programming feature, in my opinion. Can't relive a terror or be haunted by regret if I don't even remember what happened!

So it makes sense that I don't put much credence in memories. My own, for sure, but also those of others. Memory is frightfully subjective. Same with history, which to me, is just a collection of some people's perspectives that got recorded somehow.

I'm suspicious of stories, too, even first person accounts. Once the moment has passed, they are are simply narratives of a memory. Even just one minute later. Oh heck, even IN that moment, we all selectively screen out a ton of data. Our nervous systems can only process so much. The instant we try to communicate something, we have limited it. It's perfectly natural.

My theory is that memories and stories tell us much more about the personality, beliefs, and outlook of the person who is sharing them than about actual events.

By listening to your stories and memories, I can get clues about what is important to you. Do you tell me how it looked, how it felt, or how it sounded? Do you describe the people or the surroundings? Include information about individuals, relationships or systems? Use the language of feelings or thoughts?

Do you project intentions as if you know the perspective of someone else on the scene, or just report what you have observed from your position?

Lots of info there. And none of it has to do with what actually happened back then. so I guess memory and history are useful to me after all, not as a window to the past, but to contribute to my understanding of the perspective of whoever is sharing them with me.

getting to know you

I don't like that man. I must get to know him better.
- Abraham Lincoln

I normally stick pretty close to home, but over the past several weeks I've taken two trips. One to go camping in Big Bend National Park in Texas, and the other to visit family in Chicago, where I also spent many hours in a nursing home visiting my dear great aunt. I'm sure I interacted with more strangers this month than all the rest of the year combined.

And every one of those strangers has a story. At first, I found myself wondering about these people -- where did he come from? Where was she going?

Did the serious receptionist not return my smile because she was embarrassed about her teeth? Did someone tell her to wipe that smile off her face one too many times as a kid? Was she depressed or overworked or burned out?

Did the laughing toll booth attendant just hear a good joke? Was he genuinely happy to meet and greet each driver that passed through his territory? Was his favorite song playing on the radio?

I heard folks around me inventing stories about others, too. She's trying to get away with something. He's a cranky old man. She never talks to anyone. He doesn't care about anyone but himself.

Such a curiously human thing to do, this story-telling. Isn't it amazing how a simple imaginary context can change our feelings about their behavior? If we attribute malicious intention, we react with anger. If we imagine innocence, we react with compassion. And neither one has any basis in fact!

Ultimately, I decided that if I felt bummed after interacting with someone, it was worth my time and effort to invent a story that helped me feel better. Thinking that she didn't smile at me because her teeth are yellow awakened my compassion. Thinking she must not have liked me would only harden my heart, and leave me carrying a painful burden long after I'd walked away from her desk.

Doesn't really matter what's true, I just search for whatever will awaken my compassion. Since I'm making it all up anyhow, I figure I might as well make up a story that I enjoy listening to.