Thursday, December 11, 2008

Elephants never forget

At book club earlier this week, the topic of memory came into the discussion. We talked about the different kinds of memory we all have and use. People cramming text books of information into their heads just long enough for college exams, people reciting phone numbers long enough to get in touch with a plumber, or learning a poem so it can be recited for a Christmas program. So much memory is held in that temporary file and exchanged throughout the day, I got to thinking. What memories and thoughts do we really hold on to?

Its often said that elephants never forget. When I was a kid I used to picture an elephant with all sorts of strings tied around it's trunk, limbs and tail when that would be said. I'd often wonder why anyone or anything would want to remember everything they've ever seen, experienced or said. Even now, I can't imagine retaining all that information.

There are things I wish I could remember better though. When thinking of fuzzy memories of loved ones, I often want a physical trigger to help me reconnect with a happy moment. Sometimes a scent or a photo can be a switch for long lost connections to be made. Its true there are certain times of the year that I become more nostalgic; anniversaries, birthdays and even dates of loved ones passing have made me yearn for authentic memories to come to life.

Earlier this week, a student in one of my groups greeted me excitedly saying, "Hey, I have a Christmas present for you!". I was taken by surprise, and happily opened the red tissue wrapped bundle with anticipation. The switch was flipped by what I unwrapped.

Inside the wrapping was a stuffed plush elephant. It's tiny black eyes peered into mine and I recalled a moment when my sister and I had been given crystal nick-knacks. They were the glass blown animals tinged with color that were easily found at craft stores. I think mine was a mouse, but I clearly remember that hers was an elephant. I was warmed and comforted by the memory of my sister holding her glass elephant. She loved elephants.

My student had noticed my Indian purse that had elephants on it as well as a skirt I'd worn one day that was covered in elephants. She knew I liked elephants and when she saw the stuffed elephant at the store, she bought it for me.

Funny thought, I never told her why I liked elephants so much. My sister passed away at the age of 15 from complications of a heart defect she'd been born with. It's been over twenty years since she passed away, but I have always remembered her affection for elephants. In a way, I suppose my enjoyment of elephants is a way of feeling connected to her and the memory of opening our glass creatures that day.

Unwrapping our memories is something that takes us off guard, rather like opening an unexpected Christmas gift. The giver had no idea how precious that gift was and I'm thankful to her for giving something that was unexpectedly jogged my childhood memory.

Although my mind contains lots of fuzzy memories, I found out this week that the old adage is true - elephants never forget. Sometimes they even help you remember.

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