The gift of memory

A piece of parchment containing information about the conscription of troops, written in Middle Persian and dated to the 620s AD, Basel, Universitätsbibliothek, M I 18

The older the narrative, the harder it is to pin it down.

Age makes commentary difficult, because the distance multiplies the ambiguity.

Time is the master of ambivalence, the tormentor of clarity. Something which happened yesterday makes more sense than something which happened centuries ago.

The past is a concept. It is not democratic. There are no equals born under its sign. Everyone is different, and more or less privileged.

To get to the bottom of it, one must start at the top. And work their way down. And dig, move the earth around, and keep digging.

Sometimes we know the exact date and the most minute details of something which happened more than a millennium ago, but we lack the basic information for something which occurred only a few decades ago. Time is the undoer, but when the evidence is strong, it doesn’t really matter.

Memory proves the stronger of the two. The written record stops the decomposition, like a freezer in the middle of the desert.

In Homer, which describes a pre-literate society, the story-tellers and singers are everywhere. Performance and repetition struggle to snatch human culture from the entropy of oblivion. To remember is a gift requiring a perpetual service of gratitude.

Memory is there to remind us that without it, we’d be forced to live in an endless present, which might sound great to those stuck in the past or worrying unnecessarily about the future, but it isn’t actually worth much. Self-awareness develops memory, which, reflexively, breeds more awareness – the birth of history, the beginning of a civilization built on the radical act of remembering.

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