Twenty-eight years ago on this date, Matt R. and Anthony S. got into a fistfight in the locker room after gym class.
I’ve mentioned before that I have an unusually strong and detailed memory. My mother wrote a note in my baby book excitedly saying that I appeared to have total recall (I don’t). As I often tried in vain to convince my parents, though, who seemed to think a fantastic memory should directly lead to effortless A’s in school, I don’t really have any control over it. I don’t try or choose to remember things like the above factoid. I rarely ever need to employ mnemonic devices. It’s not so much that I have a mind like a steel trap; in fact, it’s more like a flytrap. Names, dates, images, sensations and thoughts flutter into my awareness and get stuck fast to the adhesive. Years later, I might be wandering the neural pathways on an errand, turn a corner, and say, “Well, hey, wouldja look at that!” And there, held in place against the association of December 9th, is a brief video snippet of Matt’s fists flying wildly as he valiantly tried to dislodge the bigger, stronger Anthony from his perch across Matt’s chest, where he likewise was trying his best to sneak a fist through to Matt’s face.
There were maybe a couple dozen kids in that locker room. I’d be willing to bet that I’m the only one who remembers that fight, even including the participants. And I’d be willing to bet a thousand times that amount that I’m certainly the only one who remembers the date. (At the time, it was almost a shock to my youthful innocence that anyone would be fighting so close to Christmas. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, guys! What is there to get mad about?) Not that it’s a particularly important or impressive fact, but I’d say it’s a safe bet that were it not for my memory, that incident might as well have never happened. I may very well be the only person on earth keeping the fact of that incident alive.
The point of all this is simply that I think it’s profound and humbling to meditate on things like that. The vast majority of all things that have ever happened, uncountable trillions of vignettes, were completely forgotten within — what? Days, months, years? What I know about my own great-grandparents would barely fill a paragraph. Most of us will be similarly forgotten within a generation of our own passing, seven or so decades of constant thoughts and experiences vanished as if they’d never been. And yet they did exist, they did have ripple effects, however slight, effects which can be traced by those capable of seeing and remembering. The world incessantly renews itself from the rich soil of its own neverending decomposition.