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While I was away in Kauai I had no access to the Internet. I made the decision not to take my laptop away with me based on this fact. It felt like I had left a limb behind; being online and working on my computer dominates my life these days. I however managed to get over this slight hurdle by using the ancient technologies of paper and pen to record my thoughts. I also had a wonderful new digital camera which my husband presented to me on the flight over to Honolulu and naturally I had fun playing with this new toy.

As our holiday was all too quickly coming to a close I wondered “where to from here?” This question is something that has been uppermost in my mind a lot these days. For a brief period of time I allowed myself to lose the magic of the here and now. How would I remember this wonderful feeling and take it with me as I go back to my reality. How could I retain this sense of calm and peace? I needed to capture within my mind this entire experience so that I could remember it later when I knew I would be engulfed by the everyday demands of living, working and surviving when I got back home.

I took time to look around me; to take note of what I saw, especially the colours, the smells, and the sounds. I remember standing by the sea on our last beach visit and shutting my eyes while I tried to soak in the moment. I wanted to imprint what I was feeling into my mind so I could remember it later.

If only creating memories and retrieving them was as easy as clicking ‘Save’ and then opening the file at some later date.

Memory is thought of as a thing, as a filing system, as a library, as a computer database. But memory is far more complex than that. Memory is about ourselves. About who we are. About what we want. It’s about the experiences that shaped us, about our dreams and fantasies, about the people we know, about our hopes for the future.

You are your memory. How could it simply be a database?

I am also aware how fickle our memories can be – after all I studied memory in psychology. Yet, at the same time, I hoped I would be able to remember something of this magic holiday. I didn’t want any of it to end. I wanted to remember every moment.

Witness for the Defense: The Accused, the Eyewitness and the Expert Who Puts Memory on TrialMemories don’t just fade, as the old saying would have us believe; they also grow. What fades is the initial perception, the actual experience of the events. But every time we recall an event, we must reconstruct the memory, and with each recollection the memory may be changed – coloured by succeeding events, other people’s recollections or suggestions, increased understanding, or a new context.

Loftus, E.F., & Ketcham, K. (1991). Witness for the defense: The accused, the eyewitness, and the expert who puts memory on trial. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Being able to share experiences with other people is a real gift especially when those people are connected to you in some way. It is the simple things that make such experiences memorable. Being together. Laughing together. Talking. Listening. Finding out things about each other that you didn’t already know. Getting closer and feeling even more connected. Treasuring each other’s company and knowing that these are moments in time that will be etched in our minds and remain with us. The next time will be different; it always is.

Each of us will go away with our own memories of our time together. They are unique to us even though we are remembering shared experiences.

Moments captured in photos are clear for all to see but what you see is not necessarily what I see or what I remember. I will have more information about what we were doing at the moment the photo was taken. I will remember the smells and the sounds. I will remember how I was feeling. I will remember who was with me and what we were doing when the photo was taken. You could infer a lot of this information from the visual image before you but it only provides a limited snapshot of a moment. It is one piece of a bigger puzzle. I hold one version of the whole puzzle and generally for you to understand this I would need to explain it to you. How often have you looked at someone else’s photos without them saying a word – normally they are embellishing the visual image in front of you with details that will put it all into context for you. This helps you to see what the photo is actually capturing – a moment in time that has passed and can never be re-captured exactly in the same way.

Then there are the memories in our minds which we can talk about and describe. The words that we choose evoke a sense of what we remember as having happened. However sometimes we embellish these memories unknowingly to make them more interesting or simply because time has passed and we can’t remember every minute detail so we draw on a wealth of information gathered since the experience took place to help us out.

Some people collect memorabilia to help them remember. They use these bits and pieces they have gathered to tell a story that is their memory of a time and place.

I will use a combination of things to help jog my memory, including this blog. My autobiographical memory will hopefully do the rest.

  • Autobiographical memory contains information about yourself, and about personal experiences.
  • Emotions, the “facts” that describe you and make you unique, the facts of your life, and the experiences you have had, are all contained in separate domains, and processed differently.

Autobiographical memory

Source: About Memory

To remember a specific event, we need a key – a unique feature that allows us to readily distinguish that event from similar events.

The key for me is always the people involved.

I was reminded of this when I heard the news of Peter Brock’s death. It was Friday 8 September. I couldn’t believe it. My mind automatically focused on this fantastic person my children and I had the priviledge to meet and spend time with. My memory of that specific event seems very clear. All these years later I can still I remember how much fun I had.

It was November 1996 and Peter Brock was in town for the V8 supercar races being held in the streets of Wellington. This was a big event.

My son was 13 years old and he was in the final stages of his treatment for leukaemia. Both he and his older sister were members of CanTeen – a New Zealand organisation that supports young people living with cancer. It was through this organisation that we got to meet Peter Brock and Greg Murphy – the ace Holden Racing Team – who became our heroes. We also received free tickets to spend the weekend at the car races. We weren’t just given any old ticket – we were given team passes. We could go down into the pits (normally our City Council and library car parking area) and be with the teams. It was an unbelievably exhilarating experience for all of us – the cars, the people, the smells, the noise, the energy, and in amongst it all the ordinary family feeling of togetherness.

An expert steer
Source: The Dominion, Friday 22 November 1996, page 3.

Brock’s former teammate, Kiwi motoring ace Greg Murphy, said last night he was stunned by his friend’s death. “He died racing … he would have been enjoying himself, he would have gone out smiling.

“Off the track, Brock was devoted to charity work, including the Make a Wish Foundation. In 1996 he met Wellington teenage cancer patient Natalie Morgan at the city’s V8 supercar race and again two years later at Bathurst.

Her father, Chris Morgan, said that meeting Brock meant the world to Natalie, who died from her illness in 2001. “Not only did he remember her, he remembered her well and took an extraordinary time out to talk with her,” he said.

Source: The Dominion Post, 9 September 2006

This was also the occasion when we first met Natalie – another cancer patient – and where our friendship with her began.

“Hi, I’m Natalie.”

“Hello, it’s nice to meet you,” responded Peter.

“How are you connected with CanTeen?” asked Peter.

“I have bowel cancer,” responded Natalie.

I still remember Peter’s face as he looked at this beautiful 14 year old in complete disbelief. He took a step back and waited a moment before he said anything. He then started up a conversation with Natalie about her cancer. He didn’t avoid the subject like so many others would have.

“I have never heard of a young person having bowel cancer before,” responded Peter.

“It is rare,” responded Natalie.

Peter Brock made a lasting impression on me in that moment; something so simple and yet so powerful. He engaged with Natalie and made her feel special. He didn’t brush her off in any way.

Here are a few photos of that time we spent with Peter down in the ‘pits’ with his car …

Damian getting into the hot seat of Peter Brock's Holden, November 1996

How does that feel?

It was Mira's turn to try out the hot seat - November, 1996

Peter Brock always had time for everyone - November 1996.

Our family with Peter Brock, November 1996

That was then …

And now …

Tribute ... A didgeridoo player gave a musical send-off to Brock, who was hailed as a brother by an elder of the Wurundjeri people

Source: Tribute … A didgeridoo player gave a musical send-off to Brock, who was hailed as a brother by an elder of the Wurundjeri people www.townsvillebulletin.com.au/

Peter Brock’s funeral, Melbourne, 19 September 2006

Alexandra Brock fought back tears as she addressed the congregation at his state funeral in Melbourne …

She said she had shared her dad with the public her whole life, so there were some memories she wanted to keep to herself.

But she said: “He was a fallible man who could piss you off, but could also make you feel so special and so happy.”

She finished with the lesson to be learned from her father’s life: “Live life with passion and joy and (know) we’re here to make the world a better place, because he sure did.”

My children and I have met many wonderful people through times of extreme hardship. Sadly, we have also said good-bye to many of them. They are always with us, deep within, in whatever shape and form that memory may take.

Every moment in life is important, even though it may not seem that way at the time. Don’t leave words unspoken. Don’t take one another for granted. Don’t put off doing something because inevitably when you do decide to do it it will be too late. Tell those that you love how you feel while they are still there in front of you. Create memories in whatever way works for you. These are the lasting gift you carry with you. Even if our memories are not pure they are real and they may be all we have.

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