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stealing memories

As I walked up the street this morning I couldn’t help but ponder how aesthetically pleasing the grey horizon was—“wonderfully gloomy,” were the oxymoron and the words which immediately came to mind.

For, for the last two seasons I’d seen nothing but resplendent color. So, today stuck out like an old square photograph lying auspiciously amongst a pile of vacation shots from a recent trip to the islands.

The vista was quite monodramatic considering not only the contrast of an iridescent summer and spring, but also how it panned against the panorama of newly ordained fall color that rustled cantankerously below.

Yet as marvelous and lulling as the multi-varied grey and white loomination was, it also piqued a cautious feeling of minacious peril. For today is Election Day, intimidating not only because of the continuing malicious threats of disruptive destruction, but also because it forebodes an uninterrupted incumbency.

Pondering this pallid fate, I realized that heavenly portents and earthly omens may not actually foretell a future, as much as they remind us of a past we’d prefer not to repeat.

This emotionally piquing phenomenon is particularly poignant because we live in an apocalyptic era. And so, all too often, our memories and fears, our troubles and tears, are recharged whenever we come across clocks and calendars glaring 9.11—6.11 even.

The lead article in today’s NY Times’s science section reports that researchers have found that Alzheimer’s not only robs the elderly of their memories, but pilfers the positive sides of their personalities as well. These victims are left “fearful, depressed or even violent” in the wake of this debilitating disease.

9.11 did much the same, but it stole the soul a nation, a horde of millions who survived the day that many of us may never forget.

Because, much like the devastating neurological effacer, 9.11 wiped out all the good times that we had once so self–righteously tendered as the most complacent country in the world. Exceedingly prosperous and relatively want of poverty on a global scale, our tragedy readily reminded us of how truly lucky we are—and how precious and tenuous life really is.

Neurological scientists have also fairly recently concluded that stressful events may fortify or rather impress memory far better than relative calm and circumstantial serenity can. Which helps explain why the rallying cry that we will Always Remember proves so poignant and apropos.

However, that said, I have also read plenty of other cortisone and cortisol (stress hormones) studies that conclude otherwise. Elders, lab rats, veterans and victims of violence alike experience shrinkage in the hippocampus, the center of memory when under stress. And a recently completed study of boot camp participants across the military services also found that the participants’ memory test performance results were “abysmal.”

Either way, the memories that have been scorched into our souls act in unison with the signs that seemingly control the future, those portents that counter the fact that destiny is indeed malleable and pliant to our wills. Thus, in reality the auguries simply remind us, they fire up the lingering pictures of catastrophe and calamity, of the subsequent trials and tribulations, of all the vile sensations we rather forget.

But let us not wallow in what cannot be changed, because fortunately, not only can most of us rely on age to help us heal, many of us here and now have the chance to steal away the glory of a fate worst than death itself.

For this evening many of us will entertain the opportunity to pull a lever, punch a chad and pick the next president of these proud and United States of America. A precipitous decision that will either maintain the old guard or inaugurate a semblance of new hope—as grey and weathered by politically empty promises as it may be.

So steel your courage and be consoled by the fact that the Fate of our nation lies in your hands, and does not hover ominously in clouds.

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