The Eternal Sunshine debate

Hello, Internet, it’s Saturday, August 10th, and I’ve been thinking again.

Last night, over a couple of beers, a friend asked me if I would, given the chance, erase my painful memories. Just… gone. No more painful memories. The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind hypothetical.

He didn’t know it, but he asked me this question on the 6th anniversary of my best friend’s suicide.

“No,” I said, immediately, without hesitation.

When asked why not, I didn’t really know. I answered with something blanket-y about learning from experience, not making the same mistakes all over again, personal growth, etc. And I think that’s all true, but it wasn’t really the answer, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

I routinely have a very bad time of August 9ths, and I was determined not to talk about it this year. This did not, of course, keep me from thinking about it for much of the day. August 9th, 2007 was very easily the worst day of my life, and August 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th were not far behind on the list. I wrote about it in some depth in this here blog entry, but today, suffice it to say that I did really quite poorly for really quite a long time. It is still not a happy memory for me. Would I erase it? Never think about it again? Not see “9 August” written somewhere and instantly see the funeral program in my head, not picture my best friend’s open casket, not flash back to sobbing into the payphone in the Gander airport after receiving the world’s worst email?

No. No I wouldn’t.

In part it is the stuff I talked about last night. I learned things about myself from that experience. I learned exactly how strong my mental health is, for one. I learned what it’s like to be really, truly sad. I learned a lot about who my friends are, and about the things they will do for me. I learned how much people want to help in situations involving death, and how very little they can do, actually. I experienced all that, I changed, I grew, I got stronger. Every cliche in the book.

But, more than that: if I were to erase those memories, would I not, then, end up having to erase everything leading up to it? The entire thing – 7 years of loving each other? If I deleted the end of that friendship, how could I leave the rest of it intact and not question why he was no longer in my life? And that. That is just not worth it.

It’s the same thing for every opportunity and every relationship in my past: no matter how bad the end was, the “during” was worth it. There isn’t  a single person in my life I wish I hadn’t met, and only a few mistakes I really, truly regret; and if I erased those mistakes, I’d only make them again.

Just after the end of something, of course, even the happiest pieces of it hurt to remember, but it doesn’t take as long as I ever expect to find the joy in them again. And pain gets less painful with time – that’s a survival trait of humans. We generally don’t remember, with any clarity, what pain felt like.

No. With absolute certainty, I will be keeping my memories. Even the ones that hurt.