A few weeks ago I learned something about myself. My grandmother and my parents had stopped by for a visit, and we were having a pleasant conversation about something or other. The truth is, I’m not even sure what led up to the discovery. But I do remember my mother mentioning – almost in passing: “well, Ben had to wear braces on his legs as an infant so that his leg bones would grow correctly…”
I think my jaw almost hit the table
As the conversation continued, I blinked as I tried to retro-actively fit this new piece of information into my life. My wife watched me as I tried to understand how this data had not made its way to me, previously. Of course, to my parents it wasn’t a big deal once it was over with, and they simply moved on without giving it another thought. I was a healthy baby who would have no trouble walking and that was the end of it. But as I looked around the table (having flashbacks of difficulty running the ‘president’s mile’ in elementary school, and of all those ‘participant’ ribbons from track-n-field day), it struck me that the only people who were even aware of my leg braces were sitting in the room with me. My other grandparents have since passed away, and my siblings are all younger than me. I doubt that any aunts or uncles were engaged enough at the time to have much recollection, and even if they were I’m sure that memory has long since faded. So here we were, and had it not been for some haphazard comment on this day, any knowledge of my leg braces would have passed from this earth with those who I love.
Of course, this is a trivial thing, but it did make me wonder: how much more has been lost? How much history, knowledge? How many stories die every day with people? We live in an age where people try like mad to preserve. We take tens of thousands of digital pictures and movies. We blog about our experiences. We even post pictures of good food and drinks on the Internet in a weak attempt to preserve and share a specific moment with those we love. But none of this comes close to preserving the person. Google stores every hyperlink you click though their search service in order to make themselves more money. Amazon knows your product browsing and purchase history for the last 5 years. Countless pieces of data are backed up and archived over and over every day by banks and insurance companies ‘just in case’ somebody decides to bring a lawsuit. And yet, the most important thing, the person, slips away with all of the wisdom, experience, and emotion.
Then again, maybe none of that is lost, after all.