Sweet Sorrow or Hopelessly Optimistic

00:00 May 30, 2012
By: Phil LaMancusa

We live in a technological age where we can imagine and create a myriad of gizmos and toys, "smart" things and "i"-that’s; still we cannot find cures to heartbreaking ailments regardless of who does a concert, how many 10Ks are run, how many fund drives we contribute to, how much money is thrown at researchers. That's enough to piss anyone off, isn't it? Or don't you think about such things? (and) Well, you might better.

You are now at an age where, no matter how good you are, bad things can happen to you. You live in a city where your health and safety are on the line daily and I can give you dozen very real threats that can prematurely end your life as you know it. Real threats that, pretty much across the board, you can do nothing to evade or forswear, given your present behavior; that goes for any and all of your friends, foes, family and folks that you pass on the street.

Of course in New Orleans there is no terminal condition that we can’t party away from thinking about, or, you might say that we are in our own world most of the time and don't think too deep about things anyway. And besides, why fret about something in the future you can do nothing about, right? And shucks, if you catch Alzheimer's, you wouldn't be aware of it, right? HawFrigginHaw.

Alzheimer’s has about five and a half million Americans in its grip; deposits of a protein (beta-amyloid) accumulate in spaces between nerve cells and cut off communication between receptors and leave as consequence: disorientation, mood swings, poor judgment, memory loss, an inability to perform normal tasks and/or think abstractly. It doesn’t happen quickly… like, you wake up and BAM! you’re gonzo. It happens slowly and with early detection you can be aware of just how screwed you are for a long enough period of time to drive you to tears, drink or insanity. Suicide attempts are not rare. To me losing my memory would really bite the big one and sure, there are some things that I’d rather forget, I'd prefer it be me that makes that decision.

Haruki Murakami, in one of his novels, speculates that people’s memories are the fuel that they burn to stay alive, and that our memories are like drawers crammed with stuff, mostly useless. “Whether those memories have any actual importance or not, it doesn’t matter as far as the maintenance of life is concerned. They're all just fuel.

“Advertising fillers in newspapers, philosophy books, dirty pictures in a magazine, a bundle of ten-thousand yen bills: when you feed’ em to the fire, they’re all just paper.

The fire isn’t thinking, ‘Oh, this is Kant’ or ‘Oh this is the evening edition’ or ‘Nice t(sexually arousing body parts)its’ while it burns.” To the fire of life it is all the same, there’s no distinction, it’s all just fuel. His character posits that’ “You know, I think that if I didn’t have that fuel, if I didn’t have these memory drawers inside me, I would’ve snapped long ago.

I would’ve curled up in a ditch somewhere and died.” And goes on to say: “It’s because I can pull the memories out of the drawers when I have to—the important ones and the useless ones—that I can go on living this nightmare of a life.”

Clearly confused by this minor crisis, I woke up in the early hours in the deafening silence surrounding me and opened some of my memory drawers. I did this because my clouded view of reality as I see it, was pushing me toward feelings of hopelessness and impotence (a slippery slope if ever there was one).

Oxymorons aside, I felt, for some reason, oddly comforted, you see; because memories are in the past, they are not real; if they’re of situations that hurt you, you can learn from them. If, on the other hand, they are pleasant (and hopefully they are) you cannot but smile and feel good. If they are nostalgic, you can be wistful; and if they are poignant and touching, you can shed a tear.

My saddest memories are those where I was helpless to influence the outcome of a circumstance in my favor; that’s a polite way of saying that it hurts to remember when life has kicked my ass. Those are memories that I need to work through and I do that in my own time at my own pace. I keep them in the drawer until such time as I feel strong. Needless to say, the memories that I drag out in the middle of the night are happy ones and like counting sheep, are pleasant and restful.

Like the character in the novel, I need to have those memories, and losing my memory would be as debilitating as a terminal illness, physical injury or some tragic occurrence. Alzheimer’s does that. It sucks you out of your body and leaves a shell to shrivel and die. Possibly starting at age 27. It scares me.

No one knows the cause except that unhealthy lifestyles are suspected of contributing to it. Everyone knows that there is no stopping it and that there is no known cure.

There’s a game that we play about which of your five senses do you think you would be most reluctant to lose. Sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste. For me it would be the uncounted sense of memory. What about you?

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