When all is said and done, we are the sum of our experiences. Our thoughts and feelings – who we are and what we believe – are the result of the memories that we carry forward of a life lived. Our minds are a vast storehouse of the millions of minutes that we have been alive.
This is why the loss of someone like my mother was so tragic. Every question that I failed to ask my mother will remain forever unanswered. Every memory that I failed to pry from her mind will never be spoken again.
My children were born after my mother had passed away, so as I experienced fatherhood for the first time and began to wonder if the things I see in my children were also present in me as a boy, I must resign myself to the fact that I will never know. The person who carried this information is gone.
When a person dies, it’s like the wiping of a precious hard drive. The loss of valuable data. Memories so strong and so true gone forever.
Even worse, so many of us plod through life, careless with our memories. We experience a moment of beauty or grace. Someone says something that causes our heart to soar. We experience a moment with our spouse or child or parent that we never want to forget. But instead of seeing the priceless nature of these moments and holding onto them with all our might, we discard them like trash. A brilliant, beautiful moment that feels as important as anything that has ever happened to us is forgotten three weeks later as life continues to pile up and we fail to reflect, record, and preserve.
Our minds of filled with memories, but the number of memories that we have allowed to fade away is astronomical. We forget so much more than we remember, even when these forgotten moments are profoundly beautiful or incredibly moving.
This is why I do Homework for Life. It’s the most important thing I do. This is why the collection of storyworthy moments from my life that I have amassed over the past five years is the most valuable thing I own.
Seeing, recognizing, capturing, and preserving the most meaningful moments from my life takes less than five minutes a day, yet it is the most important thing I do every day.
If you’re not familiar with Homework for Life, you want watch my TED Talk on the subject here: https://bit.ly/2f9ZPne
A reader who also does Homework for Life recently pointed me to the final scene from Blade Runner, known as the “Tears in the Rain” monologue. In the scene, the dying replicant Roy Batty delivers the speech to Rick Deckard moments after Batty saved his life despite Deckard being sent to terminate him.
In five simple sentences, the replicant makes it clear that he also understands how life is but the sum of our experiences. He understands the value of a lifetime of memories. And he certainly understands the inherent tragedy of death, not only in the loss of the person, but also in the loss of the sum of their experiences. The deletion of their memories forever.
It’s s devastating scene. Terrible and tragic. You need not watch the film or even understand the nature of the memories that the replicant lists to understand the sadness and tragedy of the moment.
A replicant is engineered to remember everything. It has a super-human mind. It is a Homework for Life machine.
For the rest of us? We need to stop discarding our moments of beauty, poignance, heartbreak, and discovery like trash. We need to see, recognize, capture, and preserve.
We are the sum of our experiences. Make that sum as large as humanly possible, and you will be a more thoughtful, more complete, and a happier human being.