“What are we, if not an accumulation of our memories?”

Sunset near Lake Matheson, New Zealand

The title above is quoted from the book, Before I Go to Sleep by SJ Watson. The story is about Christine, who wakes up every morning forgetting all that has happened in the past 30 years. She still thinks she’s single and 20 years old. Every morning, she gets a rude awakening when she stares in the mirror and realises the person looking back at her is a middle-aged woman with grey hair and wrinkles. Without the ability to form memories, she continues her day-by-day life with the aid of her trusty journal and the words of her husband. But, what and who should she trust? Are her journal entries a figment of her imagination? Is her husband telling the truth?

The concept of this book is not exactly novel as it shares the same premises as the Christopher Nolan’s movie, Memento. However, SJ Watson steers the story in a completely different direction and it is by no means a copy of the movie. It has definitely held its own within the thriller genre.

Praises for the book aside, I am keen to explore these ideas that the book stylistically brings up: Can we wake up everyday without an idea of who we were before? Are we able to proceed with our lives today if we do not have a semblance of what happened yesterday?

After all, how often have we heard these sayings: Don’t dwell on the past. It’s the present that matters. Yesterday has gone, there’s nothing you can do to bring it back. 活在当下,善尽本分. Technical fields also preach the same ideas! In accounting, we’re supposed to be less fixated on historical or ‘yesterday‘ indicators, but to take a forward-looking perspective and analyse leading or ‘tomorrow‘ indicators. In economics, sunk or ‘yesterday‘ costs are to be disregarded as rationally, they should not affect our present or ‘today‘ decisions.

However, in reality, are we really able to just simply forget the past? Do we make better decisions if we do not consult our past? Recollecting on the past 27 years of my life, I realised that if I were to deny my past, I will be denying my very own existence. I am grateful for the myriad of experiences I have went through, as bit-by-bit they have moulded, shifted, re-defined and built my personal identity into what it is today.

Being showered with love from my parents as a child meant that I was well-sheltered from the harshness of life, and the contentment in life and inherent shyness in personality persisted into my adulthood. Growing up as a student in the intensive (and rigid) Singapore education system has trained me into a technically competent and efficient person constantly chasing down deadlines. Serving two years of National Service as a soldier showed me the importance (and trickiness) of teamwork. Spending three weeks in an idyllic Chinese village as a volunteer taught me to appreciate the simplicity of life and I also learned that I was more resilient than expected. Living six months in Europe as an exchange student bred an almost addictive sense of wanderlust in me. It also slowed down my pace of life and I discovered how much happier I was by just taking a breather. Working as an auditor for a year (probably equivalent to a few years) gave me added assurance into my abilities and the belief that I could succeed in whatever I place my heart to.

Hence, I feel that what defines us as individuals are indeed the “accumulation of our memories”. Our behaviour today will very much be guided by the events of our past. Whilst it is important to not ‘over-dwell’ on our past, we should also choose not to conveniently forget what has happened before. Instead, we should treasure our memories, remember them and learn from them. Because we are indeed “an accumulation of our memories”.


2 thoughts on ““What are we, if not an accumulation of our memories?””

  1. A very interesting and thought-provoking piece! I think we are most definitely shaped by our past. After all, the saying that “we learn from experience” came about for a reason. That’s how we are built – it’s innate that we look to what’s happened before when we make our decisions for the future – even if it’s something that requires totally new ideas and creativity, you can’t deny you are influenced by the past. Hence the past becomes inherent. Anyway, thanks for the read! Looking forward to the next post :)


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