The concept of time weighs heavily with me, even before that crisp August morning.
I have always been fascinated with time, so much so that one of my major assignments in high school was based on time. I researched the great philosophers who have examined the concept of time through the ages: Galileo, McTaggart, Newton and others. I’ve read books on time, my favourite is Felt Time; The Psychology of How We Perceive Time by Marc Wittman, as mentioned earlier. It’s a fascinating read. I explored the different theories of time, but this last few days I have looked inward, and understand more than ever the importance of time.
We always think we have time. We are always saying to a friend, “Let’s catch up next week.” Or we look at a job we need to do at home and we say, tomorrow.
Life is made up of seconds, which turn into minutes, which turn into hours…you get the picture. This book is littered with memories of mine that are linked to present-day experiences as I journey through my personal grief. Some memories are so strong it is as if they occurred ten minutes ago. Other are distant, foggy even.
Do a little test yourself. Can you remember what you did fifteen days after the end of your honeymoon? How about four days after your 21st birthday? I know I can’t. But I can remember vividly the look on Mardi’s face the warm sunny day of our wedding, as I picked her up in the silver stretch LTD, her pink dress, silver shoes, my grey suit with a long jacket and black shiny shoes. The pop of the champagne cork in the back of the car, the drive from our place down William Hovell Drive to Marcus Clark Street. The driver stopping, so we could take a photo overlooking the Brindabellas. The memory is so real, so alive with me still, but it’s over 12 years ago.
Humans and most advanced vertebrates are fitted with a pretty cool device. It’s called the Amygdala. Commonly described as a piece of brain shaped and sized like an almond, located deep in the temporal lobe.
What this little gem of evolution does is add slices of time to critical events in our life. Think of the old black and white TV and the resolution they used to put out. Now compare that with today’s ultra-high definition TVs. All of those extra lines of detail that allow us to pick up much more detail in the picture. That’s exactly what the Amygdala does.
In effect, it is the thing that we often turn into words when we say, “It is like time slowed,” as we describe an event to a friend. Maybe we are describing a car crash we saw, or were in, or we are watching a child fall into a pool and a parent run to her rescue.
Those moments in our life are captured in much more detail than the “dull days”, as Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters so sarcastically called them. I’ve learned a way how to trick, trigger the Amygdala into helping me remember the so-called dull days and turn them into vivid, crisp memories.
I call it sensating. Wittman calls it cultivating presence. Sensate means perceiving by the senses. You actually have to experience the moment in time, the event, the thing. By doing that, you can create a more vivid memory and richer experience.
We are so caught up in the moment that often we forget to experience it. Roger Waters sings:
Follow me filming myself at the show
On a phone from a seat in the very front row
I often tweet with a hashtag from concerts I go to before the show: #PutYourPhoneAway.
We are so caught up ‘in’, we forget to ‘it’. This also has a lot to do with today’s egos. People want to be seen with famous people, or doing fantastic things. I’ve got a contact on Facebook, every time something he thinks is cool happens to him, he puts it on Facebook. Max Walker, the Australian cricketer died recently, he posted a photo of Max and him from a few years ago. He is always posting photos of himself with some cricketer he bumps into. I call people like that #StarFuckers. Their life revolves around more who they are with rather than living the moment.
Similarly, people who see celebrities in the street and rush up for a photo or talk to them like they are good mates. To me, it belittles who you are, you feel you have a need to enhance or tell others how good your life is.
I was fortunate enough to see the mighty South Sydney Rabbitohs win the National Rugby League competition in 2014. It had been a long wait, they last won in 1971. That year, interestingly, I sat on the lap of the great John Sattler as he drank in the Star Hotel in Alexandria, which we owned. Any wonder I was going to be a Rabbitoh supporter, despite Dad and you Mum buying me the odd Roosters jersey? I never wavered.
Now I can’t remember sitting on John’s lap. He also made me some toys, I can’t remember the toys. It could have never happened. I don’t think Dad is lying to me. The Rabbitohs use to always drink in his pub, we were in the middle of red and green territory. The combination of football and drinking is a cultural institution in Australia, so it’s pretty plausible that I did in fact sit on John Sattler’s lap. I’ve never told anyone nor do I have proof, let alone a Facebook post!
Now, fast forward to 2014. Wow, my spine tingles now as I write this, almost reliving the game experience. The memories are so real, so vivid that I can describe every aspect of that day. From Mardi painting her finger-nails red and green, her green eye makeup. My red and green Nike shoes, my jersey, the flag. The heat, it was 31 degrees in Sydney that day. McDonalds before the game. I had a double cheeseburger, fries and a diet Coke. Mardi had the same.
These memories are due to two things. Firstly, it was a big moment in my life and our brains tend to remember big moments better than routinised moments. Secondly, I added to its clarity, I moved the event from high definition to ultra-high definition by using my senses to experience it.
A number of times, I stopped and really sensated the moment. John Sutton saying, “Let’s do this,” as he walked and grabbed the trophy and held it above his head. The best way to describe it is I literally stepped outside of my body and watched myself. I said to myself, experience this moment, remember this moment. I took myself out of the moment and leaned into it, felt it, let it wash over me and I recorded it forever. A personal keepsake.
I’ve done a similar thing at the end of each of our visits to New York City. I wander down to Times Square. It’s manic, as I’m sure you’ll know, if you’ve ever visited. I walk to the red steps above the TKTS booth. I walk to the top of the stairs. I turn around and I let Times Square ooze into my being. It washes over me, the sound of the traffic, the honk of the horns, the smells, the dazzling lights, the din of the passing crowd, the whistle of the traffic cops, the clicking of the cameras.
Maybe it’s an eyesight thing. Maybe the way I experience the world is a little different, and by doing this, I create the vivid three-dimensional picture in my mind. I only actually see in two dimensions, and most colours are muted and wash into each other. By sensating moments in my life, I create a better-quality tapestry for myself and so, I can remember them.
Couple this with the nature’s own recording device, the Amygdala, and we have a recipe rich in life’s little joys. Now being given this opportunity, this idea, by my darling wife, to capture these memories in this format is what is helping me through the most challenging and difficult time of my life.