Thursday, November 06, 2014

Stuff that memories are made of

            Today, I completed exactly a month of leaving the US. As much as I love my new place, I wondered why I am missing the US so much. When you ask such questions in solitude, the universe gives you answers. I realized that happiness and sorrow do not necessarily exist in series, but can coexist in parallel. Just because you are happy about a new chapter does not mean that you will not be sad about the conclusion of the previous chapter. So I let myself feel the happiness and the sadness at the same time. I did not check my feelings. One needs to feel what they are feeling, and be done with it. You don’t necessarily have to do anything to rectify the situation, but just feel the feelings and be done with it. So I allowed myself to do that.

            To crystallize my thoughts some more, my stuff arrived today, exactly one month into my move here. Two suitcases with all my stuff, and a third suitcase that G had painstakingly packed with food. Spices. Snacks. Things that I loved eating. And when I opened those suitcases, I realized something. That our memories may exist in the mind, but they are created in the body first. I had specifically asked G to send me some specific brands of soaps and lotions, because I have always used them. Sniffing those soaps and lotions brought back so many memories. I unpacked my books, diaries, and notes, and when I touched them, my body exactly knew how it felt touching them. What came back are memories of my old apartment where I used to lie in bed on weekends and read those books. Bowls. Knives. The familiar feel of my sweaters and coats. When I dabbed some perfume, that smell reminded me of driving to work or going out for dinner with friends, wearing that perfume. I opened some old letters to see the familiar writings of friends, which brought back even more memories. Just like when I listen to songs, every song brings back memories of where I heard it, who I heard it with, and what was I doing then.

            Memories might exist in the mind, but it is the bodily feelings that create them. The senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. Just like the smell of my hands after peeling garlic reminds me of Sunday lunches of steaming rice and goat curry in Calcutta. Or the smell of coffee, that reminds me of Seattle. The smell of Irish Spring soaps might not mean anything to you, but right now, they are sitting in my closet, filling up my senses with my initial memories of the US. The mind does not forget these memories because the body hasn’t forgotten. Our senses get used to doing familiar things in a repetitive pattern. The familiar taste as I bite into a Chipotle burrito. The familiar sight of the green freeway signs in English. The familiar sounds of listening to the NPR radio every morning, or listening to certain familiar voices when you dial a phone number. The familiar feel of the bed, the car’s steering, or the phone’s touch screen. It is this familiarity that substantially reduces cognitive overload, the energy spent to figure things out, because things are mapped into a pattern in your head. What is going on for me right now is some active, heavy duty deconstruction and reconstruction. Like new tissue replacing old tissue. New muscle memory replacing old muscle memory. New sights and smells and sounds and tastes and sensations are replacing the older ones. I guess there are two kinds of missing something. One, where the loss engulfs you and consumes you, and does not let you move forward. And the other where your sense of loss doesn’t stop you from embracing whatever the future offers, and while you paint your new life, old memories remain as smudged sketches, a happy reminder of the past and a hopeful possibility of the future.

            So as I build newer memories in Europe, I am savoring the remnants of my older memories from the US. They will fade with time, I know they will. Even the memories of people, their voices, and how they look fade with time. New data replaces old data. New technology replaces old technology. What I am caught in right now is kind of a limbo, an in-between, transition zone. But all said and done, I am glad that the suitcases made their way here fine, just like I did.