The Days You Remember
Last week, I made a public commitment to publish one new essay, every Thursday, no matter what. True to my word, I’m showing up. For this week, I want to share quick story about a young man named Dustin who decided to take an epic around-the-world adventure in search of a deeper understanding of life.
Dustin’s trip took two years. He visited 30 countries and covered over 100,000 Km. But it was in Moscow, from an unsuspecting source that Dustin found the answer he was seeking. While struggling to order a potato from a food cart, a man in the line stepped up to help. Afterwards, Dustin told this man about his journey, the countries, and his quest for a more fulfilling definition of life. The man then said, "Life is not the number of days you live, it’s the number of days you remember."
That one line was enough to quench Dustin’s philosophical thirst and he soon returned home with his newfound wisdom. If you’re wondering where this story came from, it’s the true story of Dustin Garis, and you can watch him tell it here. Normally, I just internalize charming tales like this and move on. But, Dustin’s story happened to coincide with another recent discovery about a rare group of people who remember every day of their lives.
On one hand, Dustin’s theory makes sense. How many times have we heard friends or colleagues drone on about repetitious trivialities of everyday life? To make it worse, instead of actually doing something about it, we just idolize other people that seemingly live more adventurous, novel, and glamorous lifestyles than our own. Side note: don’t believe everything you see on the Internet. If however, Dustin’s revelation is true, we should all strive to create as many memorable moments as possible.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The 60 Minutes piece on people who remember every detail from every day doesn’t convince me that more memories leads to a more fulfilling life. In fact, almost every interviewee with this enhanced memory notes there are days they wish they could just forget. Like Jim Carey’s character from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, our painful memories can haunt us if we let them.
My solution to these opposing ideas on memory is to find balance. There are and will be incredibly boring moments in life. Every time I’m stuck in a cringingly slow grocery store check-out line, I remember David Foster Wallace’s commencement address, This Is Water. I repeat that line in my head, until the line-induced angst subsides. This is water. This is water. This is water.
The truth is, there are days we have to take out the trash, get on the bus, or stand in the grocery store check-out line. None of these events are particularly satisfying or memorable. But, avoiding these duties in search of more novel experiences feels like running away. You see, it’s the contrast between the mundane and the exciting that makes something noteworthy. Without these “grocery store moments”, the bar for what we consider memorable becomes insatiable.
In many ways, life can be described as the summation of your memories and experiences. For Dustin, creating a more fulfilling life is about collecting these unique and novel moments. But in order to appreciate the memorable you must also learn to love the mundane. In my essay on commitment, I wrote about these inverse relationships.
There’s a brilliant anecdote about Kurt Vonnegut and his friend Joseph Heller. The two were attending a lavish party of an eccentric billionaire. Vonnegut turned to Heller and said, “Wow, this guy’s got everything!” Heller replied, “Yes, but I’ve got something he’ll never have, enough.” Sometimes, it’s the things we sacrifice that bring us the most joy, meaning, and fulfillment. Life may be the days you remember, but it’s all made possible by the necessary duties we try so hard to forget.