Memory

A woman named Liz who lives in a chic New York apartment has been fastidiously collecting her cats’ shed fur to make furballs. FurballYou can see from the photo how big one of the furballs has already gotten: 8″ in diameter. It is so cute/interesting/yucky depending on your reaction — though I’m seeing so many yucks and ewws that they are seriously outrunning the cutes and awws. What’s special about her endeavor, though, is that in the center of the furball, there is a little piece of paper that records the date of the ball’s incipience.

Each year, Stanford’s senior class donates personal mementos into a vacuum-sealed time capsule and deposits it beneath the newest year-labeled plaque that joins the long string of more than 100 existing plaques lining the Quad’s walkway. Objects stored varies from Big Game ticket stubs that entire class shared memories of, to private belongings dear and precious to only one soul.

Memory is a mercurial thing. It carelessly wanders around the sea of remembrances that permeates the brain, touches here a little, dwells there a while. But the ever-growing/overlapping deposits in the “sea” offers too many temptations, it hardly has time to go down one specific memory path and investigate it thoroughly, thus saving us tons of emotional roller coasters that busy life does not accommodate. Looking at the furball makes Liz think of her cats; going back to the Quad brings back the good old times in Stanford. But the possibilities are still too many, everything relating to the subject all rises up at the same time and offers the emotional reward/baggage each brings. Like a kid faced with the nauseatingly colorful choices of ice creams in a shop, memory skims through purposelessly. The mind is overwhelmed, only able to take on a superficial emotion that is generally associated with the subject.

But at the moment when the furs slowly peel off, and the capsule retrieved and opened, things change. The seed so meticulously preserved for so long, will take memory by the hand and guide it down a definite road. For Liz, the material of the paper reminds her from where it was chosen and cut, the handwriting secretly confesses her mood at the time, and the date brings her back to that day, making her recall the otherwise monotonous errands she ran before and after creating the initial furball, as well as the loving thoughts she had for the cats. For a Stanford alumnus, her contribution in the capsule takes her mind to the events of the day, an exam, a debate with her professor; moreover, it reminds her of the people that were most important to her by then, and the hopes and dreams she had of the future when she left this little piece of remembrance in Stanford. Emotions felt at this moment are no longer surface sentiments, but real echoes in the heart that transform the person’s state of mind to that exact instance in life.

Memory is also a sweet thing. In the Russian movie “The Return”, a series of photos capturing snapshots of scenes in the movie are slide-showed to the viewer at the very end. The explanation offered by the director says experiencing something and remembering it later are very different: one may have a painful experience that one can’t wait to escape from, but looking back at it some times later, it becomes part of the person, and one can’t help but feel nostalgic with renewed insights. So the slip in the furball and the memento in the time capsule not only bring back acute emotions of the past, but also sugarcoat them with a layer of silvery reminiscence, making the experience only sweeter.

Anyone who has the chance to open up such a memory treasure should be envied.

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