During a recent philosophical discussion with my friend Losang the other day, we flashed back to our very early days alive. Losang wanted my input to a question his guru had presented to him. That is, “What do you remember from when you were two years old?”
The idea is to focus upon the earliest time you can at the age of the least amount of teaching and socialization presented to your brain. In effect, what do you remember from when you were a raw homo sapiens sapiens? How much memory can be reliably recalled before sophisticated social interface is fully installed, that is verbal and written language.
Losang’s teacher presented the idea that an individual human doesn’t become fully him/herself until we develop a way to communicate with ourself and other people. That is with language skills, we begin to grow a more concrete personal history. Losang and his fellow monks were told to test the idea as an hypothesis and not a complete theory.
My friend said he could only remember any particular event from when he was about three years old. He did recall one quick memory flash from his infancy, but he remembers it more as a snapshot that lasts maybe a second or two. Losang’s first memorable event took place in the refugee village when he was a toddler. His infant sister had eaten a large insect with the result that his mother became worried and induced his sister to choke up the bug.
His string of memories is more numerous and detailed after he reached the age of five when Losang began formal schooling. Even so, he can recall only a very few individual events, most of them very unpleasant.
The milestone positive events are difficult to remember aside from knowing that they did occur. With concerted concentration, Losang can vividly recall a few events from his tenth year and his twelfth year in his life.
He asked about my very early history. I told Losang that I too had a very short infancy memory. I remember looking at my paternal grandmother who was making “goo goo” faces at me. I can also remember the ceiling texture and the light fixture in her living room. I later verified the memory with grandma J, she was amazed.
My first real memory of an event happened sometime around my fourth year here. I distinctly remember a group of “big” boys, they were probably close to nine or ten years old, playing sandlot baseball. The game was being played very near the trailer court where I lived. I approached the boys with a strong desire to play their game. The biggest one called me a baby and said they don’t play with babies. All of them yelled that I should go home. So I tearfully did just that.
I have very faint memories of interaction with my siblings because they were still in diapers and didn’t mean much to me. I have a fuzzy memory about having a tantrum at my first introduction to my sister. I was no longer the focus of mom’s attention. The memory is a poor one, though. Later, I helped care for Debbie, but those memories are nonexistant except through old photos.
I was told that mom and dad regularly hired a babysitter to take care of me when they wanted to go out. She was a nationalized Japanese lady named Yokio. I’m guessing that’s why I developed a strong interest in Japan and Japanese culture. I wonder if Yokio is still alive. I wish dad would have taken a snapshot of her.
I have some fun memories of my days as a Cub Scout at camp. I also have a very vivid memory of getting frostbite after riding my bike home in the winter after a Cub Scout den meeting. I’ll never forget how my fingers felt like they were ablaze in flames. I was nine years old and I easily recall that because a person doesn’t need language to remember severe pain.
I do have a more pleasant winter memory of building a snowman at my maternal grandparent’s farm. My uncle Larry coached me and loaned me an old pail to use as the snowman’s hat. I have a vague memory of feeling like my uncle was more like an older brother that day.
Losang and I haven’t taken this concept beyond the level of hypothesis. Some of the memory lack might be due to brain development and some might be due to the language idea. But this will be something I’ll be contemplating for awhile.
The Blue Jay of Happiness remembers his years as a fledgling, very well.