Reflections on this thought: “How many paramount moments in my life will I always remember as such, but are utterly forgettable to the other people involved?”
It is inescapable that people will be around for our life changing moments, perhaps deeply involved in them. I had never actually ever considered what my paramount moments meant to others involved until this question was raised. I’m not even sure why. Maybe because it seemed like it didn’t matter. It was my story, and my perspective. But does it matter what others thought of those moments? Would it change anything?
Perhaps why the idea of other people never came to mind when thinking about important life moments, was that the things that are important to me, and that I am proud of, are mostly internal. Many were not specific moments, but rather changes over a period in time. Each time I have made difficult decisions to move, especially for leaving the place I grew up and starting over many times in new places and challenging myself, and calling a new place home was a paramount moment. I faced it alone. I’m proud of myself when I confront something I am fearful about. I’m proud when I accomplish something I have been working very hard towards. If I can do the front splits by February, I will be very very happy.
But our paramount moments may change throughout life. Something inconsequential may be revisited as now consequential, and a moment deemed important may fade with time. Memory and emotions are not static. “What can change about the past is its meaning, which is subject to reinterpretations and expectations toward the future” (State Repression and the Labors of Memory pg.26 ). Memory is anything but a static recall of events, but a constant reworking and laboring over meaning and understanding. Perhaps the meaning of that paramount event would change depending on the others’ interpretation of it, through discussion. What if they pointed out some flaws in your memory, some things not remembered? Or perhaps someone remembers a defining moment in your childhood that you cannot even recall, but you do know the after effects. Your paramount event is then relegated to a second hand story telling. Much like cultural pride and moments of historical significance. They were not experienced first hand, but can become deeply ingrained in our identity. The battle over the history of how Israel was created as a state is far more important than historical records, it is a battle of the memory and the narrative and a defining paramount moment to those who never lived it. How it is remembered affects future actions. Was it justified? Was it violent? Was it an existing homeland that was then expanded for a persecuted people? Memories are mediated through stories, how we tell these stories to ourselves, how they fit into narratives of the culture we live in, and how people react to the telling of that memory can also impact it. For example, a painful memory and / or traumatic event can be reframed, seen in a new light, not because the events surrounding it changed, but because how you are relating to that memory is different. This is the art of therapy. Reworking the memories. If people are involved in any way in the event, if those people change, this also can impact your feelings related to it. From Malcolm X’s biography, the very person who led him to convert to change his life and convert whole heartedly to Islam, was a deeply flawed man. While grateful to the path that he was led into, that memory surrounding the road to conversion was changed when he realized his teacher and mentor didn’t practice what he preached.
To me, a paramount moment may also be a state of mind, an idea that changed you. To see the world in a new light significantly different that what you did before. You could even make something up in your head and believe that it is true, and generate genuine feelings about it. Is the psychophrenic’s memories and experiences any less real to them even if they are not true? It’s true.. until it is not. Some people prefer delusions over facing the truth, as just roll with a different memory. To pick and choose, with reality relegated to the background. I’ve had dreams that I can still recall the powerful feelings I felt upon awakening. It is my nightmares that gave me a fear of flying. Or perhaps they enhanced a seed in me already growing, just unwatered, which then became a full fledged phobia due to an internal process that I have ‘no control’ over.
Or, for example ( this has been on my mind lately as it is a book I’m re-reading) when someone hurts someone else and never thought twice about it. Even though the action is over, the recognition, or lack of, changes the recovery process. This is believed to be therapeutic in many cultures, as truth and reconciliation commissions often focus on understanding and truth and apologies rather than restitution, as when people are being prosecuted for their crimes they will far less likely be honest and forthcoming or apologetic. The value of someone’s recognition of their actions is very murky water though, as it’s difficult to tell if someone is sincere or not, and even if they are, is that being interpreted as sincere by the victims of their crimes? There was a very powerful scene in Nelson Mandela’s biography during the truth commission, with a man confronting his torturer and describing the horrible acts that were done. The man who had tortured him didn’t even recognize him. ‘Just some guy’. Ok, so that took a dark turn. If recognition of their role in the most horrible moments in your life could make an impact, why would this not be the same for the most important, happiest moments? I do think anytime you seek value in someone else’s recognition for a role they played in your life, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. They may not feel what you want them to feel, or even care. It is a huge gamble. Even with the things you feel are major accomplishment. You can’t force genuine recognition and pride of your life’s work.
That being said, the question still has not been answered – if someone did fully understand what the moment meant to you, if they were there to experience it with you, would it be more powerful? Is watching an amazing sunset more beautiful with someone or alone? For an Olympic runner, is finishing that race more memorable in front of their family, coach and teammates to share their joy and watch them achieve their dream? Is the world more beautiful when shared with someone? Conversely, is going through something traumatic, less painful when experienced in a group? Some research suggests that it is, that the recovery process is less isolating.
I liked the quote to the right ” Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about Creating Yourself.” Literally, this is true. You create meaning from moments, and on occasion, moments out of meaning. And to answer the question originaly posited, it only matters what other people think, if you make it so. Memory is an internal process of sorting through your life and creating meaning from events and ideas that happens in your own mind and it cannot be any other way. Even experiencing the same exact thing with another person, does not entail the same meaning and understanding. The meaning of their presence is still ultimately decided by the story that is told within the mind of the individual.