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Mysteries of Time and Memory: Facts, Thoughts, and a Poem

Linda Crampton is a former teacher who enjoys reading and creative writing. She likes classical literature, fantasy, myth, and poetry.

Like photographs, nature can sometimes remind us of the past.

Like photographs, nature can sometimes remind us of the past.

Two Intriguing Aspects of Life

Time is still a mysterious phenomenon, even for scientists. Memory is an interesting aspect of brain biology and not completely understood. Both factors are important parts of our lives and are linked together in our mind and experience. They are fascinating to explore. Since scientific mysteries are involved in each phenomenon, it's interesting to speculate about the possibilities, which I do in the form of a narrative poem. I also include thoughts about time and memory that intrigue me.

The Puzzle of Time

In everyday life, it probably seems obvious to most of us that time exists and that it’s constantly moving forwards and never backwards. Some scientists say that the “arrow of time” operates only in the familiar macroscopic world and not in the world of subatomic particles, however. Some even say that time as we perceive it is an illusion.

The topic of what time actually is and how it arises and functions is rich in interesting theories. Time is often combined with space and referred to as space-time. Understanding space-time could tell us something fundamental about reality.

The past seems to disappear in time during our life. Perhaps this is not always the case.

The past seems to disappear in time during our life. Perhaps this is not always the case.

The Nature of Memory

Memory is less confusing than time because scientists understand to some extent what is happening in the brain as memories are created. The creation of memories depends on chemicals in the brain and nerve impulses there, which are created by the movement of ions. An ion is a charged atom or a charged group of atoms. It seems strange that physical processes can create non-physical thoughts, though.

Time is an especially strange concept when the human brain and memory are involved. There are many things that happened to us in the past that we don't remember. Perhaps it's not surprising that a full-length "time video" of everything that's happened to us isn't available in our mind. Some researchers say that forgetting is as important as remembering in our lives, which seems logical when we think of the huge number of events that we perceive and experience during our lifespan.

Not all memories can be easily recalled, even though they—or at least the relevant neural pathways—exist. Sometimes a trigger may cause a memory from the past to unexpectedly surface in the mind. (The mind is yet another mysterious aspect of our lives.) Strangely, the memory of the event was encoded in our brain but we had no idea that it existed until the trigger awakened it. I sometimes remember something that happened to me many years ago and that I'd forgotten about. It's an interesting phenomenon. In a way, it's a form of time travel.

In my poem below, a woman who is experiencing problems in her life travels a long distance in space and time to find her childhood home. Though the story may sound like a fantasy mixed with reality, perhaps at least some aspects of the fantasy are not as impossible as they seem.

The Garden of My Mind

I walked into the garden of my mind,
the place where children laughed and played,
and flowers bloomed but never died.
I tried to bring the past into the now,
to fill the void with love and joy,
and find the family that we were.

I needed those who lived before,
my mother with her loving smile,
my father young and vigorous,
my sister innocent and kind.

They could not come and comfort me,
nor change reality.
They could not help the outer world,
the wilderness of time.

I woke from painful reverie
to face the lonely scene.
A landscape alien and sad,
unruly plants usurping land that once was home
and greedy growth obscuring what was known,
their thorns projecting animosity.

The house demolished long ago,
the garden left alone,
now nature was in charge,
guarding life with jealousy
and the secrets that she stored.

I yearned to find an artifact,
an outline on the ground,
a solid memory,
a remnant of my younger life
and the home that used to be.

I pushed my way through prickled stems
that tore into my skin
and searched with care and diligence
but no sympathy from time.

Hours passed without a sign
as though home had never been,
until I saw a fleck of pink
shining through my tears.

The colour stayed as I approached.
I reached out to the source
and saw in wonderment and hope
a tiny garden rose.

My mother's rose bed
on this spot,
a survivor from the past,
a hidden gem of loveliness,
resilient and kind.

Greeted by the heady scent
released in gratitude,
I felt the energy of life.
"Remember me," the whisper said,
entwining with my thoughts,
desire and love in equal parts
emerging from the past.

I kissed the rose with gentleness,
returning love in kind,
then cleared a space around the flower
to make a habitat
hidden by the taller plants
and now protective thorns.

I sat beside her peacefully,
remembering the joy
of family and friends.
Warm scents from cooking foods
drifting through the home,
my mother's special cakes
topped by a magic world,
my father and his spade
revealing secrets of the soil,
and my sister and myself,
enjoying garden games.

Darkness gently fell
as in apology.
Frightened by the loss
I felt the tears again.
Yet the rose remained
and gifted me each day
with happy memories from the past
and tales from history.

Time moved on unchecked
towards the parting planned.
Memories now bittersweet
as separation loomed.
I saw the garden dressed in flowers
and glorious roses in their prime.
The scents of summer gathered there
as though to celebrate.
I touched my mother's hand
and felt her gentle squeeze.

An uncertain future for the land
and my life ahead,
but the journey back began
with a bud of hope within
and connection still maintained,
compassion in my heart,
and beauty in my mind.

© 2021 Linda Crampton

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