What was it like for Sachin Rudraraju to go through his young life, never sure what he would be able to remember?
I have a fear of forgetting things.
I think I was just entering middle school when I first started to realize how quickly life was going by. Until fourth grade I lived in an apartment in a small suburb of Ohio. When fourth grade came around, my family moved to another slightly bigger suburb in Ohio and along with it, another school system. The new school and house were frightening, but that isn’t what this story is about.
Going into middle school, my parents needed some signatures from the gifted counselor at my old elementary school, so we made a trip back to our old apartment. It felt very strange to walk through those halls where I had spent years of my life in. Granted, I had grown a few inches, so maybe it was the change in viewpoint.
School was in session. As the bell rang, students poured out of classrooms and desperately searched for their next destination. This was one of those elementary schools that tried to get older students used to the idea of the period system used in middle school.
As I stood in the hallway, smugly thinking about the much bigger lockers we had in my middle school, some kid shouted to me from a few lockers down.
“Hey! Is that you, Sachin?” The voice was unfamiliar.
“Hey dude, what’s up?! Remember me?” I had no clue who this kid was.
“Hey! How are you?” I responded cautiously, trying to hide my unfamiliarity. He wasn’t even in my grade. Maybe he was the younger brother of someone I knew? I waited for my brain to snap back and tell me who this person standing in front of me was.
“Good, good. Did you see the new Tetherball courts they put out there? There’s like a whole new playground.” This kid must think he really knew me. I was so confused. I decided to just act along for the time being.
“Wow, that’s awesome.” “How’s the new school, by the way?” Judging by the way he was talking to me, we must have been good friends. There was no way around it.
I lasted the rest of the conversation without arising any suspicion. But when he left to his next class, I was still extremely confused.
On the car ride home, I was reflecting on this brief but strange experience when it hit me. That kid, whose name was Thomas, a piece of information that my brain thought was not important enough to recall earlier, was a good friend that I had known since kindergarten. I skipped a grade in elementary school so I had friends that were a grade below me, and he was one of them. We used to play together at recess almost everyday, and yet, all it took was a year to nearly erase those memories from my memory.
In high school, every year during the months August and June, the months that mark the end of summer and the school year, there is this endless wave of people telling each other how fast their summer went by.
“I felt like we didn’t even have a summer!” “I can’t believe that school is starting already.”
The same exact thing happens again at the end of the school year during finals week.
“Wow that semester just flew by!” “I can’t believe that we’re already halfway though high school.”
You hear the same thing over and over, and the resounding chorus just seems to get stronger year after year, even into college.
I remember really hating that feeling. Why was every summer going by faster than the last? It didn’t make any sense. There was definitely something very wrong with that. Based on that premise, was my entire life just a train stuck accelerating into an unforeseen wall? Was I just stuck in a nose dive without any way to pull up? What started out as a faint buzzing was growing into a loud droning worry in my mind.
By the summer of senior year I couldn’t handle the speed that my life was going at. Everything was changing so fast.
I had a best friend that I had known nearly my entire life, though out which there was only one summer where I didn’t see him almost every day. He was going off to college on a different continent. I would probably get not get to see him for more than brief periods for a very long time.
I worried about not being able to remember the little things. The stories from my childhood, the days stuck after school, the long summers when nothing seemed to matter and days would just flow into one another. The brief conversations that happened out of nowhere – I wanted to keep everything. If you didn’t remember something, where was the evidence that it ever even happened?
I was terrified. I don’t consider memory to be one of my greatest strengths. When I tried to recall some minute detail from a high school story, my own memories were cloudy and unsure. I felt like I was looking back at my past and pieces of it were falling away out of the sky. I had to do something about it.
Being tech savvy, I thought I was being smart when I made a text file that I could write to from either my laptop or my phone. I named it journal.txt. Whenever a thought crossed my mind that I deemed valuable enough to save, I would write it down.
That summer, my family traveled to India.
On train rides from city to city and nights when I couldn’t fall asleep, I would write into my makeshift journal. I wanted to capture everything. Old memories that randomly came back to me, short stories from that day, or glimpses of dreams.
However hard I tried, I couldn’t write down everything. It was exhausting and ultimately impossible. Things were starting to fade from my mind before I had the chance to write them down. I started to panic.
It was during a car ride that I finally faced my fear. I had my face out the back window watching seemingly gigantic mountains pass by our car as we winded through the highway that led into Vizag, the city that served as my hometown until I was five years old. I can still remember the wind washing over my face like cold water. I took off my glasses and closed my eyes to absorb the moment and the sensations. When I opened them I could barely make out anything. I could barely see the mountains in the distance. But the colors were still so beautiful. Splashes of green would fly past our car as we passed fields of coconut trees. The smell of the ocean grew slowly stronger as we got closer to the city. I let it all in.
That day I truly learned the pleasure of living in the moment. Just letting the thoughts slowly leave your mind and leave it blank. And letting the sensations around you take their place. Just observing, not thinking.
Over the next few weeks, I began to reflect on my life thus far. I thought of memories that made me happy, memories that changed my perception, and memories of my mistakes. The time in elementary school when we pulled out water guns and chased each other through the neighborhood. The time when I told myself I could finally conquer the monkey bars and instead fractured my elbow. The time earlier that year where we spontaneously skipped school and visited our friends in the neighboring district. I accepted and appreciated my memories, but I slowly turned my attention the present.
We traveled from city to city, meeting new people and old friends, and saw some of the most beautiful sights halfway across the world where I spent my childhood. Leaning out a speeding train with nothing but an arm for support as it zipped past fields and villages. Drinking coconut water out of a freshly cut coconut that you saw fall out of a tree minutes earlier. The feel of fresh grass between your toes. I developed a newfound respect for life that summer.
The beauty that surrounds you is too great to try and record it in any appreciable quality. Just simply being alive is indescribable. I see a fish swimming through the ocean and try to gulp down all of the water. Let the feeling of the wind on your face truly imprint itself on you.
Before I left for college that year, I bought a little sugarcane journal and a similarly sized black sketchbook. I didn’t want to forget what were going to be some of my most enjoyable years. But I also realized that you cannot force yourself to remember everything. You have to live in the present. I stopped trying to grasp for faint memories. Instead I have come to find that sometimes those very memories have a knack of finding their way back in due time.
Photo: Ravikiran Rao/Flickr
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