Sunday, July 28, 2013

Reminiscence bump

I have recently had several opportunities to revisit pieces of me from the past. Parts of me that were forgotten, lay buried or have lived on the edges of my memory through the years…it has been a peculiar experience to encounter this stranger to me, the one my friends talk about in the third person…the Jo I knew would have, could have, should have…did, said…

Joan Didion wrote in 1968 that, “Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.” I am one of those people. Over the years, I have had a compulsive need to log my life in notebooks. I started early and along the way although I have lost some of those records of memory and the therapeutic aspects of talking to oneself on the page, I find some fragments live on in other people’s recollection of me. Different times, different people, different memories…

Funnily, when you are with people from different stages of your life, you recapture some of your old spirit. Becoming for that period, the person you were. It has been surprising to relearn about who I was in the eyes of others. Was I really that person? If I was, where did I go? Who is this person I see in the mirror every morning?

In her book, “Time Warped,” Claudia Hammond speaks of the reminiscence bump, which refers to the fact that we are most likely to vividly remember experiences we had between the ages of 15 and 25, largely because of the novelty. This is the period that records the largest number of firsts and ties into when we are forming our unique identity.

I met Shekhar during this period of my life. Our time together was full of firsts and the memories are both strong and vivid but I am learning I have other firsts, ones that came before Shekhar. The ones I recently rediscovered…sublimated below the grime of years gone by. Made shiny and new by friends, who I have not met for decades…our mutual absence from each other’s lives making certain memories sharper and others fade into insignificance. 

The reminiscence bump has been known to recur for those who undergo major transformations in identity later in life. It has taken me five years to reach a point where I am willing to let go of the sadness, to look at not what was taken away but what was given, to stand at the threshold of such a transformation… I have and am accumulating many more firsts after Shekhar. As I forge this new identity, part old self, part consolidation of who I was with and because of him, part damaged, part regenerated…I cannot wait to meet the me I am becoming.


We are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at four a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.

Joan Didion, Slouching towards Bethlehem