the cruelty of memory | The USA Print

the cruelty of memory



The true death is oblivion. And the main sign that we are dying from the day we are born is that huge amount of images, of memories that slip through our fingers. Impossible to grab them. Memory is capricious and what we have experienced slides into the abyss without remedy, leaving only a few puddles of existence. Death is the end of memory. There is no now, nor is there a yesterday. Everything we were gone forever, except if there are people left to remember us.

The other day I read that the actress Joanne Woodward suffered from Alzheimer’s and no longer remembered Paul Newman. It seemed to me the saddest metaphor for how ephemeral our existence is. That couple that seemed unbreakable; that he had shared the vices and virtues of the seventh art; a tandem that had taken the ‘yes I do’ to the last consequences; vanished forever when that woman who had been able to seduce the tormented boy with the most beautiful eyes in Hollywood forgot the meaning of the words ‘Paul Newman’.

It didn’t matter that they had shared a bed for more than 50 years. Those nights of alcohol and Sinatra music, clouded by the cold and inexorable passage of time, had succumbed forever to a cursed disease that seems more like a divine curse than something earthly. It is a suffering worthy of the imagination of Zeus, who subjected poor Sisyphus to carry a heavy rock up a steep mountain to infinity.

Banality of our existence

A disease that only reminds us of the banality (not just evil, but also, as Hannah Arendt wrote) of our existence. Of our secondary role in this world where, in the end, our little daily dramas make up the only novel we will have the chance to star in.

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The first Spanish president of democracy suffered this kind of curse. Adolfo Suárez came to forget that he had been president of Spain. Because not even the most powerful are free from this condemnation. The former president of the Generalitat, Pasquall Maragall, has been suffering from Alzheimer’s since 2008. His wife died before him, and as his daughter told this newspaper, the ex-politician worsened drastically. “She’s happy to see you even if she doesn’t remember you,” said Cristina Maragall, president of the foundation that bears her father’s name.

We could also talk about carmen sevilla, a popular figure loved by all Spaniards, a beautiful actress who had all our grandparents in love. Since her illness became known, she is rarely seen in public places. And, day by day, her memories melt at the speed at which she smokes a cigarette.

Alzheimer’s is not only a punishment for the elderly, There are also young people who suffer from it. My friend Pedro always says that although he married Elena, the girl he liked was his sister, the middle one, who died in her early 40s due to this disease. He can’t hide a look of sadness in his eyes every time he mentions it, even though he immediately starts talking about more mundane topics.

The dementia shredder also played havoc with my grandfather. A good person; a good husband; a good father; a good grandfather; with which fate did not have the slightest compassion. His human dignity was undone as the disease progressed. To make matters worse, he had to suffer the mandatory confinement due to covid-19, in which visits to centers for the elderly were strictly prohibited. My grandfather forgot us locked up between the walls of a residence without knowing why no one would see him. I still remember the words of a health technician who told me that we could only see him if “he is about to die.” Of the cruelty of those days I will speak another time.

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Childhood is the last bastion

It is estimated that with more than 85 years, 50% of people develop dementia -according to figures from the Pasquall Maragall Foundation-. When the baby-boom generation reaches this age, Spanish social services may collapse. The care of a person with Alzheimer’s costs, on average, 24,000 euros a year. Caring for this population in the future could cost 21,000 million euros per year.

But it is not necessary to be sick for the mere passing of the years to go engulfing moments of our existence that were important in other times like a black hole and they simply cease to exist. Now there are photos, videos and a thousand ways to keep memory alive. But not even these graphic materials can make us remember the details, the circumstances, the true underlying meaning of those unique experiences.

At home we have an old computer. We haven’t turned it on for years. Partly out of laziness. And partly also, for fear that it wouldn’t work, with the consequent realization that everything he had was gone. It occurred to me to start it up to rescue on a hard drive that part of our life that was waiting inside. The collection of images was devastating; friends who are no longer here, family who have left; Childhood Christmases; furious adolescence; bottles; shameful poems; recreational love; pinata birthday; misspelled essays; 90s rapping; 80’s rock; and concerns that are not absurd with the passage of time, is that they had been erased forever.

When someone drinks to forget, what they are really looking for is to kill themselves. To get rid of your memories is to get yourself out of the way. Dissolve into nothing. ‘Nothing swims’, writes Jesús Zamora Bonilla in his last book, alluding to Heidegger’s phrase. The cruelty of memory makes us think that we all swim in this world. Although as long as the music plays we will continue forging memories that will end up rusting until they disappear.

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One of the most striking aspects of the way memory behaves is that when old age is reached, childhood is more present than ever. Even when the disease attacks, childhood is the last bastion that refuses to give up. Pasquall Maragall sings songs from when he was a child. My grandfather forgot the house he had lived in for the past 30 years, but he kept talking about a town he lived in as a youth. Perhaps childhood is not only our true homeland, as the poet Rilke sang. Perhaps childhood is also that place that awaits us when all this is over. That place from which we have never left, although the years pass and the curtain closes. The last refuge.