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My View: Memory clouds the truth of our history

Ben Perrone.

Ben Perrone, an artist who lives and works in Buffalo, is working on the collage that is his life.

By Ben Perrone

My Aunt Mary has done it. She passed the century mark and is still fun to talk to. We had the big party, everyone converging on Dallas to spend time with her and reminisce with the “kids” and other admirers. The food was great. We’re a family of food and watching her son Mark put on a show in the kitchen is something. We bring gifts to Mary mostly in the reintroduction of old memories, once and again lost memories she can enjoy.

A lot of friends came to honor her life. She was the center of attention. It’s hard to think of ourselves as old kids and hard to think that our lives, too, are drawing to a close. Most likely we won’t beat out Mary and our later years may be much harder for others to endure. Looking back in time, searching our memory, is similar to looking forward, trying to imagine what the future will bring. We engage in a kind of time travel.

But time is a human concept that other animals don’t consider at all. Like Mary, they live the moment. We do, too, unless someone is late or food is burning on the stove.

Losing memory, like on my computer or through aging, is losing time. When time no longer exists, our history is gone. Could be good if I could be selective about it. Just how can I delete that guy, that conversation or that embarrassing moment in my history? I was such a fool. Actually we’re pretty good at forgetting our bad moments.

Computers could be a good stand-in for our dissipating brain function and a record of our history as we imagine and reimagine it to be. I know how much my remembrances differ from my sister’s, so what is the truth of our youth, of our history?

Some thoughts enter my mind as I write and pet my cat. Will I outlive my cat? Will she come to my funeral, or will I go to hers? I can evaluate our friendship, but does the cat “really” like me or have I made up her life in the puddle of my mind? My thoughts bounce around a lot. I don’t know if it’s a new thing or something I just noticed. It could be part of being an artist, the creative repositioning of things, like making a collage of life.

Geologic time is pretty hard to grasp, all those layers of minerals covering what could possibly be lost civilizations unrelated to our own short visitation on this globe. I guess the earth was habitable at many points along the way, between disasters like the occasional meteor or volcanic disruption.

We may be, our so-called civilization, the latest disaster to put a small dent in those layers of lost energy. We do know that some life existed in the seas, which gave us the calcified records of time. It was only by chance or luck that the first “fish” made it to shore.

How many times could that have happened while the earth sucked up the sun and evolved its chemical balance? We’re reaching for shore now again as we contemplate visits to Mars. Our hope is that we can start a re-civilization again, not having had much success with our civility here on Earth.

They say that the victors get to write history from their point of view, so is it important to get in the last word? I wouldn’t want to be the last man standing and have the burden of describing what we were all about. Even the family version is a task.

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