Once when I was a kid, my dad explained to me that children and adults remembered the world differently because of the way our brains work.
“Kids perceive everything with no prior set of memories, so time works differently. Every moment is full of new discoveries that the brain has to process in a new way each time. The older you grow, the more the mind tends to batch up memories into groups that are all alike. So when a child remembers something, it’s clear and detailed and distinct, but when an adult remembers it, it’s part of a memory batch, all the other times that this event has happened.”
My dad, for what it’s worth, has always wanted to remember life like a child does.
When I ponder 2014, I remember it in three parts. Two of these parts are long, indistinct blurs of grey cube walls, driving in traffic, and routine suburban chores. These two parts were broken up by a summer of strange unemployed freedom. It was the first time I’d ever been laid off, and for four months, life became distinct again. Parts of this past summer were memorable in a terrible way. Unemployment is a tedious round of paperwork and shabby strip-mall offices and filling out forms online about how many people rejected my resume this week. But in between, that time was also a happy glut of art and writing and learning to move my body again after two years of chemotherapy.
I have memories of swimming outside every day, of feeling the sear of sun on my skin as I slid into the municipal pool’s water. I remember the coconut scent of sun screen and the sharp chlorine. I remember the burn of the soles of my bare feet as I walked toward the water. I swam backstroke and watched birds and clouds and planes. As I swam, my mind shifted, and each thought became different.
Maybe my father’s life is an example of how to make each memory distinct. He is outside as often as he can be, and when I was a kid, he took me with him. My memories of each cave, each hike, each trip to the coastal cliffs to catch insects, are still pretty distinct.
I have a memory from these days that I unearth from my mental hoard whenever I need to think about something beautiful: I was seventeen, and the clouds had given up their hold on Hilo for a day. We were snorkeling at Richardson’s beach in Hilo bay. Surfacing from a long exploration of a reef, I reclined on the water and noticed that the full moon was hovering above Mauna Loa. For a time there was nothing in my mind except for that — the gentleness of the water holding my limbs up, and the moon above the mountain.
Maybe these moments are the only ones that survive the wash of batching, the moments when I’m caught off-guard by beauty, and there’s no barrier of thought at all between myself and the world.
The best part of 2014 was getting shoved into a waking series of moments that I couldn’t batch up and box away.