Age and Memory

I picked up City of Glass:  Douglas Coupland’s Vancouver the other day.  Among his observations on all things Vancouver, from Chinatown to Wreck Beach, this paragraph stood out:

“Now:  I believed that you’ve had most of your important memories by the time you’re thirty.  After that, memory becomes water overflowing into an already full cup.  New experiences just don’t register in the same way or with the same impact.  I could be shooting heroin with the Princess of Wales, naked in a crashing jet, and the experience still couldn’t compare to the time the cops chased us after we threw the Taylor’s patio furniture into their pool in the eleventh grade.  You know what I mean.”

I find this observation both fascinating and disturbing.  As someone on the far side of thirty,  it troubles me to think that my experiences and memories might somehow have been dulled by the passing of time.  Have I really missed my window to generate meaningful experiences?

Upon reflection, I think what made experiences from our youth fresher, more vital, can be tied to the near total lack of responsibility and predictability that we enjoyed.  Everything was an adventure in those days.  I can remember setting off with a couple of friends in the 7th grade to buy a hacky sack from John Galt Mall without our parents’ permission.  As the sun was setting, and we rode our bikes down 5 miles of busy roads, it seemed like a daring, rebellious act.  Bush parties, underage drinking, awkward first kisses – those moments still retain their clarity.

These days, life can cynically be described as an endless loop of predictable actions.  Pay day every two weeks, car payment on the 15th, swimming lessons on Saturday mornings – it can be easy to mistake one week from the next, and before you know it, February has gone by.  Repeat a few times and you wake up to find you’ve missed an entire year.

I’m not quite that jaded.  There are certainly times I long for my university days, when friends were plentiful, obligations were few, and crazy stuff happened with surprising regularity.  However, the last few years have also given me the memory of my boys being born, and the indescribable feeling of having them fall asleep on my chest.

So, I don’t think the cup’s full.  I just think the water’s flowing a bit more slowly these days.

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