Nothing lasts: a look into memory

We are pennies in the sidewalks of the world; it’s simply easier for the world to leave us behind.

Created with Canva

We are pennies in the sidewalks of the world; it’s simply easier for the world to leave us behind.

Cathleen Weng, Editor-in-Chief

Nothing lingers for long. Human memory wasn’t designed to last forever, in the same way that humans themselves aren’t designed to last forever. Eventually, everything fades: that breathtaking crimson sunset, the algebra formula you spent all year learning, the voice of your childhood best friend. The first thing you forget about a person is their voice.

It doesn’t matter if you forget someone’s voice. You’ll forget all of them, eventually. Your brain is only capable of holding so many people to significance. And even if you never forget them, even if they are endlessly significant to you, the world will forget them in the end. And there are so many people who will forget you, who you will fail to leave an impression on, even if you are endlessly significant to yourself. The collective consciousness of humanity only has so much capacity for people; only the most prominent figures last.

Insignificance is such an apathetic beast. It takes no pity on anything that fails to make an impact. A footprint (so small, so unimportant, so meaningless) left on a shore will eventually be washed away by the ocean. The shore needs space for other things, other seashells and sandcastles and footprints that will eventually be washed away too.

What fragility. People come in and out of fame the same way that light bulbs flicker in and out of functionality. A person makes headlines one day and the next, no one knows who he is. And that’s the thing about our fifteen minutes of fame: it ends as suddenly as it begins, leaving us with nothing but hey, what ever happened to that guy who did that one thing that one time?

Personally, I seek permanence. The idea of being lost to history, the same way that every insignificant housewife or run-of-the-mill white collar employee has no lasting legacy, is absolutely terrifying. Of the over 100 trillion people that have ever been alive, only a few hundred have made a truly permanent impression. The odds of being remembered, of being a Vincent Van Gogh or a Homer rather than your average Joe or Jane or Susan, are slim to none. I crave the sort of immortality that comes from being a significant part of the foundation of human civilization.

The problem with this is that it’s a nearly unattainable goal, a fact of which I am acutely aware. The terrifying truth is there are simply too many of us for most or even some of us to be remembered. We are pennies in the sidewalks of the world; it’s simply easier for the world to leave us behind. And it doesn’t matter in the end. The universe is larger than the world, more apathetic to our human experience. To the universe, we are gone in the blink of an eye. None of us have any real significance. One day, the sun will destroy us and everything we know, and when that happens, even the significant will become insignificant.

Should we continue to reach for something that will inevitably be taken away? Do we, as humans, have any permanence in the universe? Will any of us leave a truly lasting legacy? How can we expect to make an imprint on the universe when we can’t even leave a footprint in the sand?