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Spotless isn’t always better

Posted: May 27, 2014 11:34 a.m.
Updated: May 28, 2014 5:00 a.m.

There’s a movie I really love called Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s about a fictional procedure that erases people’s painful memories in an effort to help them move forward in their lives after experiencing a trauma. The film is very artistic and lovely, focusing on a couple who breaks up and both have their memories of each other erased, only to eventually find their way back to each other in the end.

It’s a different approach to the hopeless romantic flick, but different is good. For me, difference is crucial. When I first saw the movie, I thought how wonderful it would be if such a procedure actually existed. No longer would humans be bound by their negative experiences. This would be especially beneficial for war veterans and victims of abuse. I also thought such a procedure would help facilitate healing in children who’d experienced trauma.

However, when I really began to think about it, my assertion that memory-erasing as a form of therapy could be beneficial began to slip. I thought that just like anything else that seems good in this world, too much can be a very bad thing. I thought about people who would abuse the procedure and use it to remove remembrances of their own guilt. I thought about people who would erase their memories and then make the exact mistake again. Don’t we go through our experiences to hopefully learn something for the next time around?

And what if we chose to erase a memory that seemed painful, but ended up being the very key to our success? I was torn thinking about the possibilities. I’m sure everyone has things they’d like to forget, but I wonder what is the real cost of forgetting? Do we lose a little bit of our own identity with each lost piece?

The fact is, the procedure itself is fictional, but after doing just a sliver of research on it, I did find out that many, many people are interested in seeing it come to fruition. In fact, there is a drug that is being lab-tested that could potentially erase specific memories in humans (no, it’s not alcohol.)

It doesn’t sound like something that will be ready-to-roll in my lifetime, but I have to wonder, if it were a commonly practiced procedure … would I undergo it?

I met someone recently who I took an immediate liking to and have been talking to frequently since. Our discussions are always enlightening and always bring me to a point where I think about ideas I hadn’t previously considered. A unique person in many ways, his ideas are especially distinctive and illuminating. In my opinion, someone like that is rather precious, someone to keep around if possible.

Yet, I find myself wanting to tell him about my weirdest, most off-putting thoughts and experiences. Sometimes I think to myself, he’s not a priest, so why all this confession? I suppose it’s simply my nature to be open and honest with people I care about and I’m not sure this is something I can change … or even if I really want to change it.

I want him to like me, but I seem to be going about it in strange ways. Still, I think most people, at their core, want to be loved and accepted for exactly who they are, with no guise or pretense. It’s like someone telling you you’re beautiful without a stitch of makeup on your face. It’s a feeling of total freedom that’s rather uncommon.

So as I found myself rehashing various past unpleasantries to this dear soul and wondering why my word vomit seemed to have reached a critical, uncontrollable level, I returned to my thoughts about erasing memories and ideas. I thought maybe if I didn’t have these in the first place, I wouldn’t have to worry about scaring people away by my need to divulge them. Memory/thought-erasing seemed very attractive in that light.

But then, I remembered one of my absolute favorite quotes from one of my absolute favorite writers, Tennessee Williams. He said in an interview, “If I got rid of my demons, I’d lose my angels.”  I think that about myself, too. Yes, there are things that I’d like to forget; there are people I’d like to forget a hundred times over. I’m sure my heart would be lighter and my thoughts would be more bubbly, but who would I be in essence? Would I still be myself without my experiences -- the good and the bad? If I killed off my demons, would my angels follow? I’m afraid they would.

It’s become rather commonplace these days for people to say we can’t choose what happens to us, only how we respond, but that is the truth of life. We can’t change our pasts, nor should we apologize for them, though it’s easy to want to. A “spotless,” untroubled consciousness may seem appealing, but life can’t be lived without getting dirty.

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