The Perils of Memory

I was recently on a trip with a friend who wanted to show me his favorite places in his home state, some of which he hadn’t visited for 20-30 years. But when we arrived at these treasured places, they didn’t quite match his memory. One place that he remembered as having several trails had none. A car route he remembered as particularly picturesque proved to be nothing special. A river he remembered crossing easily was now impassable.

I’ve had these experiences myself, especially as I get older, and it makes me not trust my memory. I have to wonder if we selectively remember certain things about a place we visit and forget other attributes, so when we revisit it years later we have to combine our faulty memories with the reality in front of us. Putting together these disparate views can be disorienting.

Or maybe our brain combines different places into one, taking the best of each place and creating someplace that, over time, becomes burnished in our memory as the perfect place. It’s that place we want to return to over and over again, the one we mentally escape to when life gets tough and we’re looking for a refuge.

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