The Aggregation of Memory

Popular wisdom often admonishes us to live in the moment, to allow each breath we draw into our lungs to be a potential crucible of change.

“Who we are” is described in as many ways as there are philosophers or moralists; are we the aggregation of our choices? Or, perhaps we are the accumulation of our memories? Can we be “ourselves” if we have no sense of history, no sense of self?

From the time we lie within the womb, every experience we have is filtered through all the other previous experiences we have had. Every experience is interpreted, categorized, plied with assumptions and suppositions that are themselves conditioned by all previous experiences. As we grow older, we solidify our view of the world and establish our standardized approaches for the processing of every piece of information that crosses our consideration, conscious or unconscious.

What, then, does it mean to live in the moment? If any moment is the aggregation of every experience and previous choice we have made, then is not that moment the accumulated avalanche of our own identity and existence? Even when we attempt to escape our history, its pen is writ so deeply into our blood and bones that avoiding it is as likely as avoiding the consequences of a diet of McDonald’s for every meal for twenty years.

Still, I don’t believe this rises to the level of an argument for a Calvinist-style predestination. Perhaps we cannot utterly avoid our own past, but still we have the ability to steer the ship of our own lives.

True, perhaps that steering is like steering the Titanic as she bore down with seeming inevitability upon the icebergs of the North Atlantic, but steering is still possible, if with difficulty and often counterintuitive determinations.

But borne down or lifted up by the weight and might of our own personal history, still in that cherished moment that is the present we are still the author of our own future. Like a poet who must construct a poem from a set of words provided by another, we can still write for ourselves a comedy or a romance, a tragedy or a fable. In the end, when the fingers are stained with the ink that is the blood of our own lives, that tale that we write will be both fable and myth, a story that intertwines with every other life we have come in contact with.

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