Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Was It All Just A Dream?

Why is it that when something fantastic happens, sometimes it feels completely unreal?  It becomes wrapped in a dreamlike haze, like something carefully placed in a store window to be seen, but not touched.

It's true that your memory of an event changes the moment after the memory occurs - nothing you recall, even when you believe it's engraved in your mind like a high-quality photograph, is exactly as it was the moment it happened.  Although, photographs do fade too.

In some ways, this is a good thing.  Imagine if you could relive the painful memories - your hostile break-up, or a beloved grandparent's funeral.  The ability of memories and the emotions contained within them to fade is a blessing in some ways because of this.  Who doesn't have something he would like to forget?

However, there are some memories we want to cling to like a movie we can play over and over again with the exact dialogue, the exact emotions, the exact expressions.  Unfortunately, it isn't just painful memories that fade.  The good ones fade as surely as water trickles out of your cupped palms.

So what is it that gives the really amazing memories a dreamlike quality when you look at them later?  Is it the fading away of the memories or something else?  Is there some other facility of the mind that seeks to capture the memories we treasure most and lock them away for safekeeping as accurately as possible?  Is it because we're looking at them in a glass case that they seem ethereal?

A boat, underneath a sunny sky
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July--

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear--

Long has paled that sunny sky;
Echoes fade and memories die;
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies.
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die;

Ever drifting down the stream--
Lingering in the golden gleam--
Life, what is it but a dream?

-Life is But a Dream, Lewis Carroll