What I remember isn’t what’s most important

Cast your mind back in time. What do you remember of the last month? Of the last year? Of the last decade? When you look back over your life, what stands out?

Mostly, it’s the Moments That Matter, along with some that seem not to, right?

When I look back over my own life, certain episodes stand out. The first that comes to mind is what I did after getting my first decent paycheck: I spent several hundred pounds of it on books, and the rest on nights out with friends.

There’s the memories I have from my childhood of my Dad reading all the time, and me reading the very same books, right after him. And then there’s the excitement I remember coursing through me when new parts of the Harry Potter series were being released. How I’d rip right through them in hours and start over again, right away, disciplining myself to take it slower.

I can remember, very vividly, going to a summer school. My Mum was helping out, so I went along too. I recall being on the playing field, kneeling on the ground for some reason, and giving someone the middle finger. The response I received was a swift kick to the stomach. At that same summer school, there was also a girl who I thought was beautiful…

I can remember, in primary school, messing around in a farmer’s fields. Me and some friends started a little fire, put a deodorant can on it, and howled with laughter as it exploded and hit one of us on the foot. I can also remember being chased out of those very same fields and putting my foot down a hole filled with mud. I had to walk home with half a brown leg.

More recently, there was the decision to quit something I loved—coaching—to focus on something I love more—on writing. And the time that, as a nineteen year old working on security teams at festivals, I had to take four big, older guys out of the dance tent, and ask them to stop sniffing coke so obviously in the corner.

There’s so many episodes like the above that I can recall. And you would think that, the way the human mind works, what we retain in our memory is what’s most important to our life and thought. But what if it isn’t? What if what we remember isn’t actually what’s most important?

I have a lot of memories that centre around books, and around a certain irreverence for authority. Those are two strong themes in my life. But how do I know that those two building blocks originated and developed in the memories that I can recall? How do I know that some things I’ve forgotten—some episode, something I saw or read or heard or did, someone I met—aren’t the original causes of these themes in my life?

I don’t. And I guess that’s the point. Because once you start to ask these questions it undermines the certainty and faith you have in your own ability to interpret your life and ideas. It makes you realise that, despite the confidence and swagger with which we condemn others, judge ourselves, and analyse everything, we don’t know that much at all. About ourselves, or about others.