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On Spotless Minds

My recent ponderings on zombie biology reminded me of the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (bear with me). I really enjoyed this movie, though I didn’t think I would to start off. Since I believe that we are largely the sum of our memories, the concept of erasing the painful parts of your past seems a little too much like suicide for me to be entirely comfortable with.

I had a minor medical procedure done a few years ago, and had a mild anaesthetic and a relaxant. A side effect of this combination was that, though I was conscious during the procedure, I have no memory of it at all. This really bothers me. I believe that we grow through our experiences, particularly the adverse ones. We become stronger, aware that we can survive more than we previously might have believed. During the procedure, I became a different person, one who knew that the boundaries of what he could endure had become larger. Then, because of the amnesia effect, that person effectively died. That growth was wiped away, and the person who resulted from it no longer exists. I may go through something similar in the future, but I’ll have changed as a result of other experiences, so that person will never exist again.

We are who we are because of everything we experience, good and bad. We’ve all got things in our past we’d like to expunge, but we wouldn’t be us if we did. In writing about time travel, I’ve often entertained the idea of being able to alter my past so that I wouldn’t have to endure the occasionally horrific I have, or do the things I’m ashamed of in my teenage years, or suffer the various pains and embarrassments of adulthood.

I’ve come to the conclusion that if given the opportunity, I wouldn’t change anything. I’m not perfect, but I’m working on being a better man every single day. I like who I am, and I’m a stronger man for every bad thing that has ever happened to me.

A friend disputed the idea that the movie had a happy ending. I couldn’t disagree more. At the end, despite knowing every terrible thing the other had thought about them in their first relationship, Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clem (Kate Winslet) decided to give it another go. Why? Because life is worth experiencing, whether it ends badly or not.

The outcome isn’t the point, it’s the journey that matters.

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