Identity At The Mercy Of Memory

We link hands. All those different
people who were once me, our hands
joined like a continuum of
memory across one existence.
But I sense we are not all one.
The small boy, distant at the far
end of our line is holding the hand
of someone I can’t quite see.
Whose hand he, in turn, is holding,
I can’t tell, though likely it’s the blond-haired
baby caught in a photograph,
long since extricated and
eliminated from the continuum.
Catching the eyes of a man in
the middle, and the glance says it all:
what have we to communicate?

Writing as a metaphor for the creation of consciousness and memory must also require a metaphorical palimpsest: memories partially erased and over written by revised ones, similar perhaps not the same. Therefore memories become vaguer each time they are opened; each time they are opened, they cannot help being renewed, fiddled with, embellished, altered. In the digital age, they may metaphorically be seen as a “lossy format”, diminishing in quality with each subsequent saving.

Discounting the paradoxes, do you ever imagine being a time traveller seeking out your earlier versions? We might easily recognise our physical appearance with the aid of photographic evidence – without this evidence it might be close to impossible – but how much of the person under the surface would we know, relying only on memory as evidence? I think I would be shocked and disappointed. It would play havoc with the sense of self-identity.

A chain, or a linking of hands, I chose as a metaphor of a person’s life. It assumes it’s linear along with time but I think that is too simple. A memory isn’t linear like a chain, passing information from hand to hand. I imagine it’s more like a scattering chaos of bits and bobs, less like a Shakespeare, more like a Jackson Pollock. But that was probably much harder to write about.

Written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge – Week #61


“In the immensity of consciousness, a light appears — a tiny point which moves rapidly and traces shapes, thoughts, and feelings, like a pen writing on paper. And the ink which leaves a trace is memory. You are that tiny point and by your movement the world is ever re-created.”

(Sri Nisargadatta, I Am That)

image by Fré Sonneveld via


  1. Wow! This is the best of your works that I have read. You are so right that we cannot recognize our past versions. One may be embarrassed about it at times. And the future is always unknown. The only truth appears to be ‘Now’.

    Liked by 1 person

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